When the Pyschocandy-obsessed shoegazers Skywave parted ways, guitarist Oliver Ackermann moved to New York to pursue A Place To Bury Strangers, which adopted Skywave’s tsunami-like walls of distortion and aggression, and mixed in clear nods to ‘80s new wave and industrial. Paul Baker, the other Skywave guitarist, stayed in Virginia and recruited Jon Fedowitz to form Ceremony. Safranin Sounds, named after their original record label, is a compilation of their 2005 self-titled mini-album and the 2007 full-length, Disappear.
If you liked Synthstatic, you’ll love Safranin Sounds. They aren’t interested in moving the needle too far from what gave Skywave its cult following. “Too Many Times” could easily have been on Barbed Wire Kisses, for example. Large chunks of the album are similarly dedicated to pop melodies rooted in ‘50s rockabilly and girl group harmonies, slathered in loud distortion and blank, almost cheesily self-pitying lyrics, as on “Never Love Again” or “Without Your Love”. The latter combines the staring-at-the-walls teenage angst of Big Black with the needles-in-the-red, ear-shattering feedback of the Raveonettes’ “Beat City”. Other times, they’re happy to strip away the snarling feedback and go full-on romantic with chiming, near doo-wop melodies on tracks about lost love like “Cold Cold Night”, “Marianne” and “Miss You”.
If it weren’t obvious from the band’s name, Ceremony does share a predilection for the dark cold-wave atmospheres of early New Order-style ‘80s synthesizers, as on the gloomy “Our Last Goodbye”, “You Never Stay” and “Eurotrain”, which seems to be setting the theme music for Christiane F, which if you don’t know, was a depressing 1981 film about the Berlin drug scene, with random cameo appearances from Bowie performing work from the Low era.
While Skywave’s sound was balanced between Ackermann’s love of lo-fi and garage rock and Baker’s focus on melodies and atmosphere, Ceremony naturally leans more heavily toward the latter. This means that the album has some great, fully-formed songs on it that go beyond the clumsy worship of the Jesus and Mary Chain that Skywave might be accused of. “No Good for You” brings to mind the melodic guitars of short-lived Creation Records dream-poppers Adorable, with the “Old” brings to mind William Reid fronting House of Love, with a gorgeously soaring, fuzzed-out outro that’s so very Skywave, in the best way.
While the albums work better as individual pieces than the 20-track mammoth that this is, it’s still essential as an example of nu-gaze (ugh) that introduces new elements into the genre’s sound while retaining just the right amount of familiarity so as not to discourage purists.