The break-up album has become almost a rite of passage for the modern musical artist, and it’s one that doubles the impact of the work. The songwriter gets to find an expression for all the internal agony and grief he/she is feeling, and the resulting album will often be the one that resonates most deeply with the listener. Because unless you got extremely lucky in your choice of partner, you’re going to find something to relate to in the emotions vented out on this LP.
Few break-up albums have felt this agonized. Beyond the approach that Ceremony is taking on The L-Shaped Man musically—a simmering post-punk sound that evokes the best of that genre’s late ‘70s/early ‘80s heyday—you can’t get away from the pain and despair that vocalist Ross Farrar experienced. He simply won’t let you.
On previous albums, Farrar wrapped his internal world in poetic language and metaphor. Here, you get no such quarter. You have to be willing to absorb the emotional blows that he did and try to keep your gaze as he describes wailing loudly, not eating or sleeping and then sleeping through entire days, and feeling the physical ache of separation. By the time you reach the elegiac, Chameleons-like “The Understanding,” where Farrar finally feels like he’s ready to move beyond the memories of his past relationship, don’t be surprised if you also feel relieved and somewhat elated.
The L-Shaped Man is one of the boldest moves this California quintet has ever taken, akin to how their friends in Titus Andronicus are carrying forth these days. Gone are any concerns about trying to satisfy the grumblings of a punk scene that often wants their favorite bands to stay in one place indefinitely. The reins are set free and the band can explore different musical textures. The bass is shoved to the forefront, throbbing through every song like an incessant heartbeat, leaving guitarists Anthony Anzaldo and Andy Nelson to wend in between each pulse with guitar sounds that evoke the metallic wobble of Bernard Sumner and Bruce Gilbert. And unlike their hardcore past, the songs feel relatively calm, rarely ratcheting up the BPM to pogo-worthy tempos.
Again, that composure by the band only helps to leaves you little chance of missing out on every brutal and truthful syllable spilling off Farrar’s tongue throughout. All you can do is stare into the abyss and hope that, like the wiry singer of this band, you come out of the experience of this album unbowed and unbroken. If not, I say start it all over again until you do.