In 2006, David Lynch unleashed his last nightmare, a film that occasionally terrified and often engaged in abrupt detours, the destination unclear, the journey - to be blunt - pretty fucking crazy. Textbook Lynch, really.
What was new was the stylisation of the project’s title. INLAND EMPIRE, it screamed, its director insisting on the capital letters. Lynch, naturally, has yet to divulge his reasons. A sense of mystery is important, after all.
Manchester’s NO CEREMONY/// catch the eye immediately with their own form of branding. It goes beyond the name, their fondness for block capitals extending to song titles, themselves confined to one run-on word. Throw in a press release that takes aim at 'relentlessly engineered pop acts and manufactured stadium rock' while simultaneously proclaiming their debut record a 'striking response' to such ills and those letters read that little bit bigger. The trio may preach non-conformity but they come cloaked in gloss and intrigue. No ceremony? Debatable.
Musically, there’s more gloss than intrigue. Thematically, NO CEREMONY/// is fairly one-dimensional: a treatise in heartbreak and loss. The mixture of longing reflection and sharp electro is hardly revolutionary, but NO CEREMONY/// prove to be good with gloom, their arrangements often demanding your opinion in addition to your attention. The brooding ‘FEELSOLOW’, for example, finds singer Victoria Hamblett pondering, ”Is it wrong to make you love me?” in a detached, near-alien tone. It’s a question that anchors the song, first appearing in minimalist fashion, then taking on power against sweeping synth lines before providing a punchy full stop. It’s a curious composite; plain wordplay underscored by subtle structure. The songs are lean, rarely staying in one place for too long and mostly avoiding schmaltz. ‘WARSONGS’ is the biggest offender in that regard, its iPhones-in-the-air refrain of “But all I’ve learned from love is it always breaks your heart” missing the mark.
NO CEREMONY/// rarely misses, though. In fact, it’s one of the more immediate records of recent months. Highlights emerge quickly and the production is consistently interesting. It’s only with repeated listens that a problem arises. NO CEREMONY///, despite their wounded hearts, don’t qualify as full-on miserablists but their debut is an unavoidably cold affair for the most part. It doesn’t help matters that the key moment of true connection doesn’t belong entirely to them. ‘AWAYFROMHERE’ stuns from the opening seconds, combining sparse beats, sombre piano and nice acoustic/tremolo guitar interplay but it’s guest James Vincent McMorrow – Ireland’s answer to Justin Vernon – who is the song’s biggest boon and the record’s biggest burden as he locates that all-too-absent warmth with ease. At a little under three minutes, ‘AWAYFROMHERE’ is deceptively busy, but it pauses at crucial intervals, McMorrow shouldering the weight, his haunting delivery absolutely dominant as he begs for safety and solitude.
His appearance provides an interesting contrast to NO CEREMONY///’s other featured contributor. ‘HEARTBREAKER’ – deployed earlier - drafts in Pixies’ guitarist Joey Santiago, who gets the chance to be familiar in an unfamiliar setting. It’s a nice touch, the glacial tones and musings on unrequited love/lust faring well alongside the sharp guitar. As the track switches gear for the expected outro flourish, Santiago hits his mark with aplomb. It’s all very pretty, the right moves made with precision, but the sense that little lurks beneath the surface is palpable.
An odd one, this record. You want to embrace it but it’s more interested in pushing back while attempting to further impress you. And it does impress. It does move. ‘PARTOFME’, in particular, is clever construction that builds to a killer payoff and a shining example of the skills that drive this band. Closing remarks ‘DELIVERUS’ and ‘HEAVYHOUR’ change the script slightly, the latter finally allowing a little light to creep through the cracks. Alas, there are barriers here, the feeling that NO CEREMONY/// are content to stalk shadows. This stance is effective, but it renders a full connection rather difficult. A little mystery is no bad thing, though it’s a shame that a band seemingly so desperately in search of heart do their utmost to shield their own.
6Dave Hanratty's Score