The new album from San Francisco five-piece Ceremony got its name when frontman Ross Farrar realised just how much time we all spend watching each other, viewing each other, and that we are all living in a human zoo. But it could have just as easily been a direct comment on the sound of his band’s fourth full-length. This thing rustles, squeals, and squawks. ‘Hysteria’ has an itchy scratchy quality, ‘Repeating the Circle’ is rife with wailing guitar sounds, and ‘Nosebleed’ slinks like a jungle cat. What ‘Zoo’ rarely does though, is roar.
That’s not some misty-eyed note of nostalgia for Ceremony’s harder, faster earlier outings but a lament for the attitude and spirit that came with them. Coming off the back of their last album, the eclectic and experimental ‘Rohnert Park’, the band promised things were only going to get stranger but instead they’ve gotten tame, toned it down, taken a stumble back here. Rather than a gloriously individual, feral take on post-punk and sludgy pop (the sounds that the members of Ceremony so obviously adore) ‘Zoo’ is a garage rock record. One with little to distinguish it from a thousand other garage rock records.
‘Citizen’ sounds hazy and unfinished, like a Strokes-lite jam, ‘Ordinary People’ is desperately plain, perhaps capable of piquing interest while it plays but forgotten as soon as it stops, and if some of the guitar work on ‘Adult’ raises the game, Farrar’s voice, drenched in static and fuzz throughout, feels flat and weak when it could be so bold.
Comparisons will be made with Fucked Up. Both bands signed to Matador and began to transform. But where the Canadians came of age on their last record, the Californians seem to have only captured growing pains. There’s so much talent in the band and they have plenty of time to bare their teeth and bite back, take this sound outside and do dirty things to it, but too often this feels safe and staid. Ceremony’s next record could be great then. ‘Zoo’, simply, ain’t.