When seminal three-piece Skywave broke up in 2004, they split into two groups. Bassist Oliver Ackerman founded A Place to Bury Strangers, another well-received shoegaze outfit known as New York’s ‘loudest band’; while guitarist Paul Baker and drummer John Fedowitz pooled their talents to form Ceremony.
With a pedigree like that, you’d imagine Ceremony already have their sound locked down, and if Safranin Sounds feels awfully familiar, that’s because it’s a career retrospective of sorts born out of unfortunate circumstances. After achieving a level of notoriety with their second album Rocket Fire, new-comers keen to explore the band’s back catalogue were greeted with the news that masters of their self-titled EP and debut Disappear had gone missing. With the help of Berlin imprint No Emb Blanc, the band spent several months remastering and re-recording the two releases – resulting in this sprawling, 20-track album.
So how familiar can the first two releases jammed onto one record by a shoegaze band born out of the remnants of another shoegaze band sound? The answer: very. Ceremony make a lot of noise for two men, but it’s mostly the same well-familiar triangulation of Jesus and Mary Chain, Nine Inch Nails and My Bloody Valentine; a mid-tempo mix of effects-laden guitars, industrial beats and the odd splash of synth. There are brief windows of something more intriguing when the band breaks up that formula, though. “Nothing Inside” brings the synth to the forefront in a track that offers a bit more rhythmic push, while “Nothing in the Sun” succeeds by the merit of its surging guitar line and big chorus. Otherwise it soon feels interminable.
As you would expect from shoegazers with an industrial bent, Safranin Sounds is a bleak experience. Cheerily titled opener “Dull Life” asks: “How many times will I say I’m sorry? / How many times will I say we’re through?” On “Nothing Inside”, over a production-line beat, we’re offered another goth-y boo-hoo: “Where do you go when the sun goes down?” And soon after: “All alone and I want die / feel nothing, nothing inside”. It’s more than a little maudlin and teenage; the duo achieves better results when the mascara-streaking histrionics are submerged amongst the din. On “Eurotrain” blooping synths and a steady Kraftwerk forward groove is complimented by some inscrutable tannoy-voiced vocals that don’t distract but add to the sprawling wall of sound the duo are more comfortable at creating than penning lyrics.
In its defence, Safranin Sounds is a record forced into the form of the Best Of… album when it’s made by a band getting into their stride. No one asked for the pair to sum up their work so far on a 70-minute double album, but circumstances demanded it. That Ceremony are committed shoegazers who merit texture over hooks doesn’t help matters, either. Fans intrigued by the duo’s more recent output might be well-advised to look to the future than return here.
Release: 30th July 2012, No Emb Blanc