Breakup albums mark a turning point for a band: the moment when their sound completely changes and reaches a new level of emotional clarity. All that heartbreak and malaise condensed into any single record often makes for a defining piece of work, no matter the genre. The best records explore the nooks and crannies of sadness, learning it inside and out — celebrating it.
Ceremony’s fifth studio album, The L-Shaped Man, uses singer Ross Farrar’s recent breakup as a platform to explore loneliness and emotional weariness, but it is by no means a purely sad album. Rather than look inward, Farrar uses his experience to write about what it means to go through something heavy and come out the other side a different person.
In order to tell Farrar's story, Ceremony have almost completely stripped back the propulsive hardcore of their previous records, turning every angry outburst into simmering despair. “We’ve always tried to be minimalists in writing, even if it’s loud or fast or abrasive,” says lead guitarist Anthony Anzaldo. “It’s really intense when I hear it. Not in a way where you turn everything up to ten. Things are so bare, you’re holding this one note for so long and you don’t now where it’s going—to me, that’s intensity.” That intensity is apparent on “Exit Fears,” the first full song on the record. It meticulously pairs Justin Davis’ loping bassline, which pulls the track along, with Anzaldo's icy, minimal guitar work. It brings to mind some alternate version of Joy Division that hasn’t quite lost all hope. It gets close to exploding, but instead plays the shadows, never quite rising above a nervous simmer.
“A lot of the content has to do with loss, and specifically the loss of someone who you care deepl about,” Farrar says. “There is no way for you to go through something like this artistically and not have really strong emotions of loss and pain. There’s not really any way to hide that.” Farrar, for his part, is singing with a new kind of intensity, his baritone swooping and retreating from stressed angst to unsettling near-mutter as he sings, “You told your friends you were fine/ you thought you were fine too…” and later, “nothing is ever fine/ nothing ever feels right/ you have to tell yourself you tried.” It’s the first of many lyrically direct moments, and it should be hard to listen to, but Ceremony have so effortlessly nailed the sound of sadness that it feels great to live inside for awhile.
The sound is abetted by producer John Reis, who honed his sound in seminal bands like Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes. Much of the gravelly aggression he experimented with in those bands is present on The L-Shaped Man.
There's a story behind the title too. “I was speaking to our driver Stephen while on tour,” Farrar says. “We were talking about men in general and what shape they are…their body type. I said, ‘I guess men are in the shape of an L. The torso is straight. Vertical. And then you have the little feet at the end.’ There’s this painter named Leslie Lerner who was living in San Francisco in the ‘70s and ‘80s and made these beautiful paintings. He died on my 21st birthday. A lot of the record is about the similarities in our ideas. In what we’re trying to make. Things that have to do with love and losing love.”
released May 19, 2015
Ceremony is Anthony Anzaldo, Jake Casarotti, Justin Sean 'Tore Davis, Ross Farrar, Andy Nelson.
Produced by John Reis.
Engineered by Ben Moore.
Assisted by Dean Reis.
Recorded at Big Fish Studios.
Additional tracking and mixed at City of Refuge, San Diego.
Mastered by Dave Gardner at Magneto Mastering.
Art direction and layout by Mike Zimmerman & Ceremony.
Line drawing by Ross Farrar.
You took pictures of Your life
But stopped after awhile
Closed Your eyes to faith
Shame and denial
You think now nothing went right
But You’re wrong
Are You having those dreams again?
Bodies of water
You have to get through this
Get through it all
Track Name: Exit Fears
You told Your friends You were fine
You thought You were fine too
You told Your family twice
How You had climbed out
But nothing in this world is fine
Nothing ever feels right
You have to tell Yourself You tried
The pain will leave in the night
Memories return in the light
No one would find out
It started as a way to get by
You thought You’d survive through
You were lonely & wanted to die
That’s just a weight You confide
But nothing in this world survives
Nothing ever feels right
You have to tell Yourself You tried
Track Name: Bleeder
Are You calling old friends again?
Have You forgotten how to live?
You stood screaming in Your room
There was no one there
No one heard
You desire to be seen
You’re backing down the hallway again
You slept through entire days
‘Til human voices wake You & You drown’
You’ve become careless about time
Your soul seems to be in a knot
Have You been watching the sun rise?
Don’t fall into the fire
Track Name: Your Life In France
You remember sitting inside the café
Selfishly aware of things You couldn’t change
Edith was buried down the same street
‘Give your heart & soul to me’
You remember the first time You called
Life arranged by feelings You felt
Standing in the snow
The door in the floor
You sat down on the patio
watched the cars go by
Heard the splash from Icarus
Falling from the sky
There was something You couldn’t move
You couldn’t be
Love turned into reasoning
Became so harrowing
People You loved
Places You saw
Portions are gone
Track Name: Your Life In America
You don’t want to leave from here
Tied to the pain of passing the years
Passing the touch
You know it by heart
Like not getting enough
You come to a place
You just want to stop
You want to give up
If You don’t care where You are
You’re not lost
Track Name: The Separation
Pieces of time
Thrown from the bow
Five years away
You never figured it out
When she stepped outside
You feel down
When she closed the door
You started throwing Yourself
Can You measure the loss?
Track Name: The Pattern
He walked into the room
Paid the working man
The change was physical
It’s happening again
It will always be there
Those strange happenings
He taught You how to see again
He’ll always be Your friend
Those early years
Felt so unclean
You tried to walk away
But it’s happening again
Track Name: Root Of The World
Underneath You can’t escape the sound
within this room
You pump the blood in & out
The root of the world is in the red heart
Poisoning the body distracts the mind from what it needs
You couldn’t sleep
You couldn’t eat
Chewing your fingers to the quick
With the intimacy of her cigarette
Lips lungs teeth
Track Name: The Party
You can’t remember
The face of a person
You used to know
Did You even know them?
Did You ever really know?
Sitting at the party
On the stairs
They came back to You
They always come back to You
Some of those people
You used to love
Somehow it hurts to know
They’re gone from You
You should have known all along
After You’re feeling low
Small pains start to come
Try to forget the smell
You have to go
Someone’s behind You
Track Name: The Bridge
Inside the bridge You suddenly felt calm
Simple passing through the world
& remembered The Man with the Wooden Arm
How hard it must have been?
You saw Yourself walking with no one else
& it scared You
But Your heart was just asleep that night
No dreams at all
It’s nothing like You ever thought
Why do You break sometimes when You’re alone?
Is it the feeling of heavy loss?
You don’t think about her anymore
But You still lie
Impossible to breathe
It didn’t hurt
Finding other things
It didn’t feel like anything
Track Name: The Understanding
The color in the trees started changing
It got colder inside that house
You drove through a golden field
Fell asleep at the wheel of time
& it felt like You’d never come down
From that place inside Your chest
That feeling may never stop
While Your dreams warned You of the bad
All Your problems would never fix
Nothing was ever right with You
When You try to fall asleep tonight
Remember who’s here with You
Everyone You ever knew
Everyone You ever touched