The L-Shaped Man

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A brooding, post-punk affair full of dark-hued melodies and austere arrangements, L-Shaped Man is the fifth LP by Bay Area group Ceremony. Their initially firm stance as deliverers of classic American hardcore punk began to soften around the time they signed with veteran indie Matador Records to release 2012's Zoo. While still laced with punk ethos and attitude, Zoo felt like a turning point for the band as their tempos slowed down a bit and their songs became more tuneful, having more in common with L.A. skate rock than aggro hardcore. L-Shaped Man cements their transformation from hardcore heroes to something else entirely with a newfound focus on careful song structure and atmospheric production. The dour, reverberating sounds of Joy Division immediately come to mind as Ceremony switch from the thrashing full-guitar chords of their earlier work to punctuated, single-string leads, leaving plenty of sonic space for frontman Ross Farrar's vocals, which are far more present and commanding than ever before. Introduced by a rather gloomy piano number called "Hibernation," L-Shaped Man hits its stride on tracks like the lead single "Your Life in France," which is followed smartly by the thundering dirge "Your Life in America." With its big harmonic chorus and strong guitar hooks, "The Separation" is a high point on an album that embraces and thrives in its own heartbreak. Whether or not they're borrowing too heavily from the Ian Curtis handbook (the band's name is taken from a Joy Division song), Ceremony have a strong handle on this style, and after nearly a decade together, these new clothes fit them quite well.

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