On 2012's Zoo, Ceremony's transition to major indie label Matador prompted a shedding of most of their abrasive hardcore influences in favor of more melodic and complicated songwriting. For their follow up to Zoo, The L-Shaped Man, Ceremony draws from singer Ross Farrar's recent breakup, and uses it as a canvas for a confessional and more sensitive turn. The album pointedly zeros in on a different aesthetic that seems directly influenced from late 80s post-punk groups like Joy Division and New Order with a surprising ease and deliberation.
From the first sparse piano notes of the prelude "Hibernation," it's clear that this is not the same type of band as the one who released Violence Violence in 2006. Farrar mournfully sings "You think nothing went right/ but you're wrong/ so wrong," sounding like Genesis P-Orridge on one of the later Psychic TV albums. It sets up the narrative voice of a very personal voice speaking to an ex, reflecting on their successes and failures of the relationship.
The direct and darkly personalized lyrics continues on "Exit Fears," with Justin Davis's bass sounding a lot like Peter Hook, and Anthony Anzaldo's lead guitar lines sounding like Johnny Marr on downers. These influences remain consistent throughout the album, and almost all of the songs sound cut from the same cloth. "Bleeder" ramps up the energy a bit more, but the first great composition is the fourth track "Your Life in France" which fleshes out the narrative. It paints a picture of the two characters in a cafe and then on a patio and culminating in the repeated lyrics "People you loved/ Places you saw/ Portions are gone."
One of the strongest features of this album is Farrar's ability to take simplistic lyrics and channel an emotional core with every repetition. In lead single "The Separation," the hook repeats and "Can you measure/ Can you measure the loss," becomes both a question to the unnamed other character, and acts as a self-reflective question of purpose: how much did this lost relationship mean to Farrar's narrative voice? It's a thematically important line that hangs like a shadow over the rest of the album, and fittingly comes with the instrumental derived from Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me.
On "Root of the World," the band gets its closest to its hardcore roots, with Farrar's painful scream taking over for one song in place of his monotone singing. There's a groove that goes through a dynamic change that sounds like a glossier and fleshed out version of "It's Going to Be a Cold Winter" or "This Is My War" off 2005's debut E.P. Ruined. Returning to a hardcore aesthetic for one song gives The L-Shaped Man a good dynamic that draws a link to their earlier work.
The biggest problem with The L-Shaped Man is the similarity that some of the songs have to one another. Songs like "Your Life in America," "The Pattern," and "The Party" all run together as workouts in post-punk worship, but lack individual hooks that make some of the other songs impressionable. They have the same formula of gloomy guitar riffs, driving bass lines, and monotone lyrics, but they just aren't as memorable.
However, the last song, "The Understanding" ends with excellent guitars and drums working in tandem, swelling and droning, and Farrar singing "Everyone you ever knew/ Everyone you ever touched/ Baby just say that it's over." Lyrically, it ends the narrative in a strong Pink Floyd-like manner where it's bittersweet, but definite. A good follow up to Zoo, and a strong addition to Ceremony's expanding discography.