Losing things and the subsequent search for said things can be among the most frustrating experiences available to the human animal. The door keys aren’t always on the kitchen top, the cash card isn’t always in the back pocket and on a slightly larger scale the car isn’t necessarily still where you parked it (though these can fall under the bracket of “theft” occasionally too of course). Some things, however important to you, just never come back.
Imagine the stomach turning feeling of Paul Baker and John Fedowitz (for they are Ceremony) when they lost all of the masters to both their Ceremony EP and their more recent Disappear LP early in 2012. They must have been, like, well feisty about it. But what separates artists from civilians oftentimes is their ingenuity and that’s how we land at Safranin Sounds, a twenty track, near seventy minute album that boasts entirely re-recorded material from the lost tapes along with a handful of newies for good measure.
Now, while one can admire their determination to rescue their songs and expose them to a wider audience (the kind of audience perhaps that their extremely influential, commercially ignored earlier incarnation as shoegazers Skywave didn’t offer them) this is a tough record to enjoy for several reasons.
Neatly, most of the songs are blackened, declamatory songs of lost love and abandonment. That can get very repetitive very, very quickly. There are a number of easily forgettable songs here including the early-MTV-aping synths n’ beats chillwaver ‘Nothing Inside’, a tattered pillow of muddy reference points which lacks both inspiration and precision; the frankly horrible ‘Nothing In The Sun’ which, through its banal electro sound and pop pretensions recalls nothing more clearly than Jesus Jones or, suicidally, Sheep on Drugs; there’s the embarrassingly titled ‘Eurotrain’ a song that, like much of this record, listens to the same kraurock records as the Horrors but instead of bringing anything to the table personally, simply pastiches and pays very silly, very basic tribute in the most obvious ways.
There are, conversely, several moments to thoroughly enjoy. While the tone rarely if ever shifts from monochrome, near-atonal miserabilism there are at least a few tunes to savour. ‘Never Love Again’ is a knee-deep sludge trudge through ‘50s rhythms with a nursery rhyme lyric (“You close the door/You don’t love me any more”) that absorbs and offers at least a sliver of melody. There’s opener ‘Dull Life’ which recalls not only their most obvious touchstone of JAMC but is also the moment they sound closest to former Skywave compadre Oliver Ackerman’s A Place To Bury Strangers, its extremely atmospheric, mechanical beats cauterized with the burn of pedal powered guitar. There’s also no ignoring ‘Future’, mostly for it’s opening line of “I’ve seen the future and the future’s shit” (ten nihilist points there) but also for it’s marriage of Tron arcade sound fakery to floor-cracking feedback.
One thing in particular to admire about Ceremony is their ability to tap into the collective false memory of the imagined American childhood, a world many non-Americans have secretly inhabited since watching either Stand By Me or American Graffiti in their youths and a little mindpocket it’s hard to leave behind. That Psychedelic Furs vocal (who, of course, were English, ironically) and smashing together of girl group form with alt-pop content is the near perfect spur to ignite thoughts of The Lost Boys, Electric Dreams, taking your baby to the drive in, and all the other things we’ve never done outside the US. This aesthetic, be it accidental or intentional, is best summed up by ‘Cold Cold Night’ a strongly tuneful, pleasing night-time quiver of hopelessness that offers a sniff of acoustica in an otherwise mechanised soundscape.
There are plenty more here you’ll skip through on a second listen, such as the videogame cyber-noir of ‘No Good For You’, the rain-soaked misery of faux-techno track ‘Without Your Love’ and the building blocks Joy Division (surprise, surprise) of ‘I Heard You Call My Name’. The sad truth is that as it’s such a droning drag of a record to get through, many won’t ever discover the run of melodious, increasingly dynamic tunes that make up a large part of the album’s last portion.
‘Living For Today’ offers an avalanche of drums on which skis a lithe, skilled melody. We then have ‘Too Many Times’, an ATP-friendly minor key chant that sounds, unlike many other tracks here, that some thought has gone into the production (and not just the thought “let’s make it sound like it’s recorded in a bin”) and then we have album winner ‘Clouds’: a beautiful baby cry of lead, some magnetically lachrymose whisper-vocal that sounds like a hit, a kiss and the sum of their influences being built upon – surely a great sign for their future (even if the chorus might remind you a little of James’ ‘She’s A Star’… ssshhhhh).
So in tried and tested form we return to the first paragraph – was it worth them finding, or in this case recreating what was once lost? Well, you’ll not find much originality here – there’s too much repetition of the wrong kind and certainly not enough tunes to carry so lengthy a record. They’re obviously well within their rights to release a retrospective type album but what a shame they didn’t curb their indulgence and offer up a ten-track single album that would have been so much less of a wade through the mire, so much more vital and so much more enjoyable. A nearly-wasted opportunity.
Listen to Safranin Sounds