In 1984 when art rock punks turned new wave pioneers DEVO released Shout, they were well past their prime. The sixth album for the band, it had played out synths and a cheesy pop direction that sounded like a copy of the current new wave acts who had lifted their ideas from the first three DEVO albums. In a lot of ways, that’s what In the Spirit World Now from California’s Ceremony sounds like. You immediately get the influences, you immediately recognize the tones, but the album is so lazily put together that it all feels like a copy of something better you can hear at any eighties night at your local dance club. In fourteen tracks Ceremony changes like they always have, though this is a change that’s hard to get in to.
The opening track, “Turn Away the Bad Thing” is one of the best songs on the album. The high energy opening with darkwave touches mixes well with Ross Farrar’s voice. The vocals have a dark energy to them while the synths mix well with the stride of the song, while the Chelsea Wolfe vocals are a nice touch to the well arranged and constructed track. Then, in the blink of an eye, things start to go downhill. The title track isn’t anything to get excited over until “Further I Was” gets very close to copying “Blue Monday” by New Order in its opening notes. Don’t worry if you’re a New Order fan though as the song quickly turns into that crappy incidental music that all the white kids dance to in a John Hughes film. This is lazy, the songwriting could definitely be better here, making one wonder how this song even got on to the album.
“We Can Be Free” isn’t wonderful, but it is better than most of what’s on the album. Though the eighties dance pop tones employed leave little to be desired. The lyrics feel repetitive and at times, like there wasn’t enough material to write in a thoughtful direction. “Years of Love” is okay, though the riff feels a little too close to “Girl U Want” from DEVO. And while “I Want More” and “From Another Age” both start strong, you find yourself skipping ahead for something better when those repetitive lyrics continuously remind you that this sound has been done many times before, and a lot of that was done better.
But with all of this, including the nice pieces of spoken word read by Brooks Haxton, the closing song “Calming Water” is another winner in terms of musicality. The song has a nice guitar driven tone that opens things up and adds these little synths that compliment the vocals well. While we loved the punk albums that Ceremony made, and really loved the post-punk direction of The L-Shaped Man, we just can’t seem to get into this album even though we welcome when any band changes their sound. However after listening to In the Spirit World Now for no less than twenty times, maybe this isn’t a change we care enough about to embrace.
In the Spirit World Now is available to purchase directly from Relapse Records, it can be downloaded in all digital music stores and streamed on all streaming sites. Ceremony will be on tour starting tonight at August Hall in San Francisco, CA until November 26 at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, UK. Their complete tour schedule can be found here.
Image Credits: Photo by Rick Rodney.