4 stars (of 5)
Chapel Hill's the Old Ceremony deliver more '60s-influenced chamber pop ruminations on 2012's Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide. The band's third studio effort, the album is a melodic, rambling, low-key work that once again showcases lead singer/songwriter Django Haskins' knack for intimate and folky songs that bring to mind a mix of the archly literate work of Leonard Cohen and the more atmospheric alt-folk of Elliott Smith. Largely built around strummed or fingerpicked acoustic guitar, these songs are also draped with minimal touches of violin, organ, electric guitar, drums, and various percussion instruments.
There is also a cinematic, imagistic quality to many of Haskins' lyrics that make for an often surrealistic emotional listen. On the ominously poetic duet "Beebe Arkansas," Haskins and his female partner relate the impossibly true story of a strange, almost Biblical natural event from New Year's Eve 2010 when birds fell from the sky. They sing "5,000 blackbirds raining down over Beebe Arkansas/It's a hard way to end a New Year's Eve/Black feathers everywhere/Cold in the midnight air." Similarly evocative, the midtempo ballad "Elsinore" turns Shakespeare's tragic play Hamlet into a bittersweet metaphor for suicide, or perhaps the end of a relationship. A surprisingly warm and tuneful piece of alt-folk cinema, it features Haskins' gentle drawl juxtaposed against his stark lyrics. He croons "Throw your mattress on the sidewalk and keep moving on/The Streets are caving in/There's not much time for getting gone/Leave a note in semaphore/Scattered corns along the shore I don't know what you're waiting for/It's comin' to an end, my friend/This holiday in Elsinore." The song, much like the rest of Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide, sticks with you, drawing you back into its darkened narrative long after it's ended.
All Music, Aug 2012.
eMusic (Daily Download)
North Carolina rustic rock group The Old Ceremony delivers more moody, noir-folk classics on their fifth album, emphasizing vocalist Django Haskins' dusky croon and surrounding it with creaking violin and taut acoustic strum, making it recall both sound of music sung 'round a fire and the shadows that fire creates.
eMusic, Aug 2012.
8 stars (of 10)
Ever lament the fact that you don't have very many records in the "O" section of your collection? Maybe Outrageous Cherry and the Only Ones. Well, fear not, because once you hear Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide, the fifth LP and big indie debut from the Old Ceremony, you'll fill your Os up fast.
The pleasures of OC are twofold. On the one hand are the acoustic-based yet cinematic arrangements, which blend wide-ranging folk, atmospheric rock and pretty much any other sound the band feels like borrowing or adapting to its cause. On the other hand is the imaginative songwriting by leader Django Haskins, the kind of tunesmith that makes you wonder why you haven't heard of his work before - this is an individual who understands craft. For example, the strange tale of "Beebe Arkansas," which saw a mystifying rain of dying blackbirds, could be used as mere novelty, but Haskins convincingly evokes the boggled minds of observers without histrionics. "The Royal We" takes on the airs of the privileged and makes its point without descending into rage and name-calling. The shimmering "Star By Star" sits comfortably by the lovely "Elsinore," while the woozy "Catbird Blues" contrasts with the nearly strident march of the title track. The psychedelic sheen of "Middle Child" shares time with the straightforward rock/pop of "Sink or Swim," which could and should become the band's calling card.
These are the types of songs that induce frenzied searching through record stores to find everything the band has ever done. After listening to these Fairytales, the next response should be "more more more."
BLURT, Aug 2012.
Creative Loafing Charlotte
We shorthand "classic songwriting" to imply music which sounds like it could've been penned in any era - so strong are the songs in the fundamentals of melody and lyrics-writing. Classic songwriters also seem to use whatever literary conceit is at hand to hit on the deeper truths in our lives. For Django Haskins, the polymath who fronts Durham's Old Ceremony, that's saying something, too. Haskins is writing two nonfiction books and has previously penned songs with subject matter ranging from plate tectonics to New York City development czar Robert Moses.
Now, on a Yep Roc debut and fifth release, Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide, we find Haskins and his band equally adept at capturing Big Star's long shadow as they are channelling the bittersweet love tales of their namesake, Leonard Cohen. In songs which deal with everything from modern-day plagues ("Beebe, Arkansas"), the poisonous political landscape ("Sink or Swim"), scientific progress ("Star by Star") and a slew of love-gone-sideways ditties, the Old Ceremony cuts to the crux of the theme that runs throughout the record: Learning to cope with the world as it is, not as we want it to be. With adult fare like that couched in elegant songs where patience rewards repeat listens, "classic songwriting" seems an entirely apt description.
Creative Loafing, Jan 2013.
When Django Haskins picks up the phone, it's less than 48 hours after his return to North Carolina from Europe. He'd been across the pond to play two shows, in London and Barcelona, as a member of Big Star Third, an all-star revue performing Big Star's Sister Lovers. For Haskins, it was an opportunity to stand among heroes: Jody Stephens (Big Star), Chris Stamey (dB's), Mike Mills (R.E.M.)-- and on this trip, Robyn Hitchcock and Ray Davies, too.
"It just blows my mind to have that kind of opportunity," he says, shaking off the jet lag.
He won't have much time to reflect, though. The Old Ceremony, the orchestral-pop quintet Haskins has led since 2004, releases its fifth album, Fairy Tales And Other Forms Of Suicide, this month. The band's first LP for Yep Roc is also its first to receive a vinyl pressing, as well as its first to be released in Europe. In other words, it's the perfect time for a provocative album title.
"The decision came because it just seems to really express the overarching theme of a lot of the songs of the record," says Haskins, "which is trying to really see things as they are, rather then the way that you'd like them to be, or the way that sometimes these idealized versions of things get in the way of that. The band has obviously been around for a while, but to a lot of people, this will really be the first thing they hear about us, and I like kind of coming in swinging a little bit."
If the title swings, the music lands the blow. Eclectic as ever, the Old Ceremony spends Fairytales' 10 songs resurrecting the Waits/Cohen pop-noir of its earliest recordings ("Star By Star"), toe-dipping in funk ("Middle Child") and otherwise concocting a sophisticated synthesis of intimate folk, dramatic pop and rootsy power pop. Aside from its guitar/bass/drums (played by Haskins, Jeff Crawford and Daniel Hall, respectively) setup, Mark Simonsen's vibraphones and Gabriele Pelli's violin add a stately glow and atmospheric shading to the Old Ceremony's music.
"Certain bands kind of have a sound, and that's their sound," says Haskins. "For us it's definitely been an evolution. There's an aesthetic and maybe kind of an atmosphere to our songs that is pretty consistent " it's a little more abstract than a specific sort of sound, but that's what ties together what is otherwise a pretty eclectic writing style."
It also makes them a perfect fit for Yep Roc's roster, where the Old Ceremony stands alongside rock ‘n' roll grown-ups like the aforementioned Hitchcock, Sloan, Chuck Prophet, Nick Lowe, John Doe and Paul Weller. When I mention this to Haskins, he laughs. "Right," he says. "Grown-ass men."
There's something to that, though. Like many of the reinvented and rejuvenated performers the band now calls labelmates, the Old Ceremony makes music unencumbered by the ever-shifting demands of new and now. And it does so without forgetting rock's primal energy. There's a catharsis, Haskins says, in playing a guitar solo "that sounds like it was damaged in a fire."
- Bryan C. Reed
MAGNET, Aug 2012.
New York Daily News
The Old Ceremony Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide: The leader of this North Carolina band, Django Haskins, matches his unflinching vocals to gothic folk-rock tunes and words that look at fantasy askance.
NY Daily News, Aug 2012.
The Old Ceremony brings baroque rock to Duke Gardens
People packed into Duke Gardens on Wednesday evening for the second show of the 2012 Music in the Gardens series featuring Triangle favorites The Old Ceremony.
The band, led by charismatic frontman and songwriter Django Haskins, rocked through a set of songs from their catalog as well as some songs from their forthcoming Yep Roc debut Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide, out on August 21.
The new songs performed included the fantastic "Sink or Swim," which Haskins said was written after watching GOP presidential debates. The fans clearly knew the band's catalog and responded enthusiastically to the songs "Til My Voice is Gone," "Reservations," "Talk Straight" and "Poison Pen."
The band sounded solid like they had been on tour for months but hadn't played any official gigs since a pair of shows in early May.
After playing for more than an hour, the band returned for an encore, closing with the crowd pleasing classic "Papers in Order" from their 2006 album Our One Mistake. It was the perfect way to end the evening. Hopefully the new album will bring The Old Ceremony the much deserved success that they are due.
Triangle Music, Jun 2012.
The Blue Indian
The Old Ceremony's vocal leader, Django Haskins, playfully acknowledges that his Chapel Hill band's fifth LP was originally conceived as a double-EP. He reasons that half of the material is acoustic, the other half the thoroughly textured pop noir the band has been cultivating for the better part of a decade. The gimmick never quite came to fruition, and thankfully so. Not that EP's are bad, but an EP (or two, for that matter) just can't match the lasting power of a well-made Long Play. The result, the Tender Age LP, gives seasoned fans a worthy continuation of the last two records (Our One Mistake, 2006 & Walk On Thin Air, 2009) and new listeners an apt primer into the homespun drama of this brilliant bunch.
The polyphony and varied influences arrayed on this disc belie its cohesiveness. The best way that I can think to describe Tender Age is as a well thought mix tape, culling voices, moments, and snapshots that, while strange and varied only make sense next to one another. This is the type of album that you can listen to a couple of times and remember which song comes next. Memory fills the pregnant, muted pauses between tracks with the opening bar of the next. These, despite the band's penchant for writing great melodies and hooks (Haskins furnishes the instrumental play-in music for some local NPR programming), are not singles, but acts of a play; facets of a whole musical digest.
Haskins and co-conspirators craft kick the album off with the title track, pulling in some eastern influences that bespeak of a nagging Harrisonian affinity. The relational lyrics of the opener crack the lid on a gumbo of love, suspicion, loneliness, regret, and vulnerability to follow. Ruined My Plans continues to pour on the dark charm and moody wonderment that the band has patented. Just when the Cohen-esque, minor-chorded melancholy seems to dictate the record's mood, they change it up with a bouncy pop number, not differing so much in content, but rather style. Within TOC's own canon, this resembles the delightful Papers In Order of OOM.
The rest, a panoply of diverse yet convergent tunes. All At Once might have been lifted straight from a Frank Black and the Catholics' record. Good Time has all the crunchy swag of any one of the songs from Spoon's Gimme Fiction. Rufus Wainwright or Andrew Bird couldn't have matched Haskins' theatrics on Wasted Chemistry. My personal favorites are the stripped down and truly Carolinian Wither on the Vine and the pre-Rubin Avett Brothers' dead-ringer, Never Felt Better. The album closer subtlety chronicles the NC Triangle's best current attribute: collaboration. Gone Go the Memories bids us a fond farewell amid a buoyant piecemeal chorus featuring a bouquet of local indie rockers (from the The Love Language, Schooner, and Annuals).
Ironically, Tender Age tells a tale not of novelty, youth, or immaturity, but of sly security, adroitness, and versatility. Tune your ear to The Old Ceremony's best offering to date.
The Blue Indian, Oct 2010.
Press from 2008-09
After causing quite the stir around the indie scene with their first pair of albums, Chapel Hill, NC's The Old Ceremony are ready to break through the glass ceiling with their most stunningly progressive effort to date, Walk On Thin Air. By stripping away all the unnecessary frills and thrills from his music, songwriter/singer/guitarist/violinist/pianist Django Haskins treats the remaining elements of melody, structure, soul and sound like putty in his multi-tasking hands. What he winds up with at the end is nothing short of indie-pop brilliance.
While Walk On Thin Air does continue the Brit-pop vibe of Our One Mistake, in a Roger Waters vs. latter days Lennon & McCartney sense, the overall aura of the newer release is a much darker one. Even one the disc's most musically upbeat numbers, "Ready To Go," with its marching rhythm and quasi-western vibe, tells the tale of a fatal car crash, from the perspectives of each of the accident's victims. Opening track, "Til My Voice Is Gone" is a shoe-in for most glorious sing-a-long of the year, yet it remains one hundred percent fluff-free. Conceptually exploring escapism, while musically minimalistic, "To Disappear" is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's more introverted and depressive material; though it remains as captivating as brighter tunes like "Plate Tectonics" and "By Any Other Name."
Walk On Thin Air is an anomaly of sorts when compared to other albums of its ilk coming out right now. A sort of bridge between to very close, yet markedly different worlds, this record carries enough complexity, subtlety and thought-provoking subject matter to make huge waves in the indie scene, while at the same time bringing an obvious element of tuneful accessibility that will catch the ear of any music fan. I wouldnâ€™t expect the trend-driven mainstream to maintain enough focus to latch onto this gem, but it could easily become a classic in many of music's sub-circles.
by Ryan Ogle, Artist Direct, 1.2009
Indie Band you need to know: The Old Ceremony
Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based quintet The Old Ceremony are set to release their third album Walk On Thin Air this February. The band has made quite a name for itself with its first two albums, 2006's Our One Mistake was chosen as one of Paste Magazine's top 100 albums of the year. You can get a pretty good sample of songs from all three of the band's albums on their MySpace. The Old Ceremony is hard to place in one genre as the songs show varied styles. On "The Disappear," The Old Ceremony adopts a minimalist-pop sound where simple key parts mix beautifully with orchestral arrangements. On other songs like "Get To Love" the band has a more hard-edge rock sound. "Get To Love" makes great use of an addictive guitar hook complimented with strong string and key arrangements. One of The Old Ceremony's biggest strengths is being able to quickly change style, as they do for the chorus of "Get To Love." The Old Ceremony also does a great job writing songs that sound like classics. Songs like "Papers In Order" have structures that may remind you of The Beatles later work. If Walk On Thin Air is as strong as the band's first two releases it'll definitely be worth keeping track of.
by Chris, Tunes Level, 11.18.08
It's often arresting to be confronted with music without an apparent agenda. Where so much indie music is soaked in posturing, puffed up for attention, the Old Ceremony don't pose, they don't appear to be showing off influences to wow critics or move up in the hipster league table. Instead, Walk on Thin Air serves up individual serving sized portions of slick, vaguely rootsy rock infused with a tender, affecting melancholy.
"Til My Voice Is Gone" and "Someone I Used to Know" are poster children for the band's style of smooth, unadorned pop/rock. Upbeat arrangements are beefed up with violin or the strains of a well-placed Leslie-filtered organ. The title track uses some of the same tricks, but instead of vaguely rocking out, channels them into a haunting, percussion-free lament, punctuated by dramatically placed cymbal crashes.
Elsewhere, the band's introverted side dominates. "Murmur" and "The Disappear" meld the loungier aspects of R.E.M.'s Up with a more modern, less exhausted Leonard Cohen, The Cohen connection isn't surprising, considering the band's name is derived from one of his album's titles. "Stubborn Man" boasts the combined tenderness and rustic calm of the Band playing a 1930s or '40s pop ballad. It's disarming, and a little weird, but also affecting, somewhat similarly to the best moments of Dylan's Modern Times.
There no singularly discernible influence on parade here. Rather, it's a disc not unlike the best soups; each ingredient swirls smokily around the other into a rich, irresistible whole full of flavors that float in for a moment and then slip away, ones that you adore but just can't quite put your finger on. There's a bit of the Band here and there, a slight touch of Semisonic's Dan Wilson there, and oddly, big chunks of Toad The Wet Sprocket. You can fish them out if you'd like, but I'd recommend against it. Those are good eatin'. On a related note, much of the record is, at first, underwhelming and difficult to place. "Plate Tectonics" and "By Any Other Name" tend to slip in one ear and out the other during the first few spins. But as their strong choruses and organ swells take hold, they eventually take their rightful places as album standouts.
The Old Ceremony purvey a variety of earnest, effortlessly melodic and well-crafted pop/rock that for some incomprehensible reason doesn't seem to get much play these days. Walk on Thin Air is a trove of minor moments of pleasure, none of them astonishing, but a collection that adds up to a satisfying, soulful, organic album with a marked repeat listenability factor, one that's as distinct as it is initially unassuming.
by Mike Rengel, PLAYBACK:stl, 2.2009
Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine
The Old Ceremony is the rare band that can write contemplative, artsy rock 'n' roll while not coming across as holier than thou. Walk on Thin Air, the Chapel Hill quintet's third album, is sometimes bold and brash, often sparse and ethereal, but at all times introspective. Django Haskins, principal poet and songwriter for The Old Ceremony, sings of, among other things, inevitability, finding anonymity in the bottle, and the simple matter of perspective. From the shake-your-first-at-the-world opener "'Til My Voice is Gone" to the intense self-reflection in "Stubborn Man" and the brotherly advice of "Don't Parade Your Scars," Walk on Thin Air, without being preachy, consistently encourages listeners to look within. There's nothing wrong with that at all.
by Dave Stallard, Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, 1.31.2009
Chewing Gum For The Ears
I worry sometimes that I have dug myself so deep into the indie scene that I've forgotten how to enjoy some of music's simple pleasures; a sing-a-long chorus, relatable lyrics, a smile-inducing amount of positive energy, etc. Fortunately, bands like The Old Ceremony are here to remind us of how effortlessly enjoyable rock 'n' roll can be, and why you and I should take a break from listening to our Animal Collective records every once in a while. The group's anthematic Americana sound ranges from "the Beatles to Beck, Leadbelly to Led Zeppelin" according to their bio, and that's a decent description from what I've heard so far. The North Carolina five-piece's ability to build familiar themes and pleasant melodies into relevant, interesting structures is both admirable and gratifying.
The Old Ceremony are giving us a sample of their upcoming album, Walk On Thin Air, by offering the first single, "'Til My Voice Is Gone," over at RCRD LBL. The song's triumphant message and epic presentation combined with the band's skillful musicianship should make you a believer in no time.
by Chris Nowling, Chewing Gum For The Ears, 1.13.2009
Amidst some aqueous organ and a few prophetic lines from leadsinger Django Haskins (yes, dude's name is actually Django,) "Til My Voice Is Gone" begins like it's actually being played from the "seawall" Haskins sings about, a place where we imagine you can see orcas and sea lions and the water isn't overly salty. Then the drums kick in, and this tune turns into something like Whiskeytown on anti-depressants, super-optimistic Americana for the weekend warrior crowd. The Old Ceremony's third album Walk In Thin Air drops on February 9, so make sure to pick that up if this is your speed, it's solid.
RCDLBL, January 2009
Chapel Hill News
Chapel Hill's acclaimed and famously hard-to-pigeonhole The Old Ceremony...has called its sound 'pop noir,' but although there are echoes of everybody from Frank Sinatra to Tom Waits to Paul McCartney in their music, nobody else sounds quite like TOC.
Chapel Hill News, 5.7.2008
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Daytrotter"...slinking and rich musical pieces that are full of the simple life getting tainted by modern aspirations and such."
Sean Moeller, Daytrotter, May 2009
North Carolina has become quite the fertile wellspring for indie rock in recent years, and if this new album by the Old Ceremony is any indication, that assessment will likely linger for some time. Produced by the band and mixed by venerable local legend Chris Stamey, Walk on Thin Air boasts a sumptuous sound, intertwining texture with nuance. Earnest and engaging one moment, pensive and reflective the next, it's the work of a band that's multi-dimensional in its outlook and approach.
Luckily, those looking for immediate gratification will find it in the opening one-two punch of 'Til My Voice Is Gone' and 'Plate Tectonics,' each filled with rallying cries. Pulsating rhythms and plaintive desire dominate throughout, proof that even a slow burn can create an incendiary set. -LZ
Performing Songwriter, May 2009
New Skin for the Old Ceremony is among the most revered entries in the distinguished catalogue of Leonard Cohen, whose darkly elegant approach to pop serves as clear (though by no means lone) inspiration for this noir-ish act that takes its name from his 1974 album. Clearly this isn't a band that shies away from its essential nature or refuses to admit its antecedents. Singer and principal songwriter Django Haskins has even acknowledged in interviews the seeming inevitability of his choosing to play guitar after having been named for the legendary Django Reinhardt. That attitude of acceptance and comfortableness in one's skin permeates the Old Ceremony's newest album, Walk on Thin Air, a mature, assured effort that finds the group confronting some of life's most grim and intractable realities with honest humility and patient deliberation.
Such attributes aren't typical ingredients for high-octane rock'n'roll, and sure enough the Old Ceremony's music matches the confident care of the band's internal dynamic. An act that can swell to a dozen players in concert and has built a sartorial reputation by wearing suits onstage, the dapper Carolinians take a standard rock ensemble and dress it up with moody, stately things like violins and vibraphones. It's a tactic that adds dignity to the title track and the quietly devastating "Murmur", yet it can just as easily make the album feel like an overly buttoned-down affair, as when the group lets strings awkwardly riff on "Same Difference" or evokes the more grievous banalities of various 70s piano men on "Stubborn Man". For the most part, however, the orchestral elements in songs like "Plate Tectonics", "The Disappear", and "Ready to Go" simply serve as subtle yet distinguished reminders that these are grown-ass men playing these songs, working through life's problems with highball glasses in hand.
The Old Ceremony's music can feel unsettled and even slightly disorienting (check the organs on "By Any Other Name"), but it's only because the band is pushing up so closely against some pretty frightening truths. Somewhat paradoxically, it takes real self-possession to even meet these uncertainties head-on, accounting for the steady grace of songs like "Plate Tectonics", which correlates the inevitable disasters of love with the shifting of the earth, and "By Any Other Name", which ponders the futility and uncontrollableness of language. Haskins does play up brooding noir a bit too broadly on "Ready to Go" and "Don't Parade Your Scars" and particularly goes overboard on "The Disappear", a plodding, punch-drunk song about escaping the workaday world that makes me start to worry I was wrong about the National all along (though I still think the Brooklynites are more clever than this). Then again, such overly stylized transgressions are rendered easily forgivable by the humbly affecting bewilderment of "Someone I Used to Know", which marvels at the inevitable but no less baffling changes that time effects on past lovers whom we once thought we understood completely. The fact that change is one of the most fundamental of all constants is just another of the ironies that the members of the Old Ceremony wisely perceive, and even more wisely refuse to pretend they've mastered.
by Joshua Love, Pitchfork Media, Mar 2009
There's resonate hum inside The Old Ceremony, a feeling akin to gospel without its trappings. Theirs is a clear-eyed positivity that faces down life's slings & arrows and outrageous fortunes and remains standing in the face of it all. Their last album, Our One Mistake, was a quintessential grower, gaining depth and force with repeated listens, and their new one, Walk On Thin Air (released February 24 on Alyosha Records) has all the markings of a song cycle that's only going to thicken up beautifully with time. Emotionally sincere and boldly etched, The Old Ceremony is rock in the vein of Cold War Kids and early U2, though a touch warmer than either of those. Some tunes, notably "Stubborn Man," bear a swell resemblance to solo John Lennon. While perhaps not as readily ear-grabbing as its predecessor, Thin Air may ultimately prove the denser work. Leader-songwriter Django Haskins belts 'em with a nigh Jeff Buckley level passion and sweetness, and he's surrounded by peels of vibraphone and violin, purring organ and bright whistling. As the list of things to be cynical and downhearted about grows by the day, we need music to march us into a brighter tomorrow. From the wonderfully anthemic opener, "Til My Voice Is Gone," through the gorgeous, contemplative title track on through another dozen well put together studies of hearts and bones, The Old Ceremony provide a nice soundtrack for the long journey towards that brightness. Another splendid album from a band that only seems to grow and grow.
by Dennis Cook, JamBase, Mar 2009
Flagpole Magazine (Athens)
The Old Ceremony from Chapel Hill is back with its sophomore (sic) effort...Walk on Thin Air is a restrained and moodier version of the group's debut (sic), self-titled and self-released record. While the self-titled (sic) album boasts a number of pop gems, including the irrepressibly catchy "Papers in Order," Walk on Thin Air is, well, thin on superficial pop hooks, and heavy on lyrical and aural introspection. Songwriter Django Haskins sings in a voice that conveys depth of emotion, while his lyrics are flirtatiously dark. Perhaps more so than many modern singers, Haskins is equally comfortable singing about the sacred as he is the profane. On "Boy Prince" Haskins channels the innocence of a post-Beatles John Lennon, while on "The Disappear" he sounds downright devilish. "Til My Voice Is Gone" is an anthemic number that is the closest thing the album has to a pop single. On the more fleshed-out songs on Walk on Thin Air, The Old Ceremony is theatrical like Coldplay without being pretentious, and melodic like Fastball and The Killers. Perhaps influenced by Haskins' namesake - Django Reinhardt - the group's songs also have elements of jazz. Though The Old Ceremony hasn't yet figured out how to channel the energy of its incendiary live shows onto tape, it makes it up with stellar musicianship. The air might be thin up where The Old Ceremony dwells, but it's worth a visit for the 48 minutes this album lasts. by John Shea, Flagpole Magazine, 2.12.2009
One look at The Old Ceremony's wide array of gigmates - Polyphonic Spree, Cake, Chuck Berry, Mountain Goats, Avett Brothers - should give a clue as to the broad diversity in the North Carolina quintet's sound. On their third album, Walk On Thin Air, the band has the expansive vibe of electric Celtic Folk, Baroque Pop and atmospheric Americana, a fascinating confluence of the Waterboys, Poi Dog Pondering, Ryan Adams and T-Bone Burnett. Led by frontman/songwriter Django Haskins, The Old Ceremony kicks off Thin Air with "Til My Voice is Gone," which starts like Irish Gospel and incrementally builds to a blazing Rock hymn at its rousing finish. The band's range is most evident on the Celtic Dylan Rock of "Plate Tectonics" and the hushed melancholy of the title track and its arresting opening line: "I woke up dead again." Just when you think you've got The Old Ceremony pegged, they turn another musical corner in such an engaging and infectious manner that you have little choice but to follow.
by Brian Baker, CityBeat, 3.2.2009
Gapers Block (Chicago)
Two recent topics of posting in Transmission collide this weekend at the Double Door for the after party of the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival. We first mentioned the festival last week in a spotlight feature piece of some of the screenings to check out. We also recently reviewed the stellar new album from Bloodshot Records own Dex Romweber Duo. You're in luck this Saturday as Romweber and a slew of talented acts take the stage to celebrate the inaugural CIMM festival. One of the bands to make sure you check out on the bill is fellow Carolinians (the homeland of Dex Romweber Duo) The Old Ceremony. Their new album, Walk On Thin Air, has a sultry soulful vibe yet still rocks the house with their jangly piano driven southern tinged rock 'n' roll. The bands played with the likes of CAKE, Chuck Berry, and The Avett Brothers, so combine those sounds and you've got a good idea of what The Old Ceremony sounds like. Which if you weren't paying attention, they sound like a good time. Expect a rollicking good night from start to finish Saturday. by Lisa White, Gapers Block, 3.6.2009
'Til their voices are gone
Mark Simonsen looks like the lumberjack of his acre and a quarter of Durham woods. Square-shouldered, Simonsen hides part of his ruddy face behind a modest cinnamon beard, his hair casually swept down to his forehead. He wears a red-and-black flannel shirt, faded jeans, boots and a wedding band, and he boasts about the lay of this little plot of land: His ranch house sits close to the straight asphalt road out front because, out back, the woods drop quickly into forested valley. It's the sort of strangely shaped Piedmont terrain he hopes can never be developed. Behind the house, overlooking the woods, Simonsen spends his time in a large workshop, one light shining the way to the front door. But this isn't the typical workroom of a woodsman. Inside, reels of magnetic audiotape and an old refrigerator covered with stickers from rock bands and stocked with dark beer flank a set of sliding glass doors. Wires spill out of various electrical boxes, and broken brass guitar strings sit camouflaged against a tawny carpet. The deep whirs and sighs of a Hammond M-3 organ bleed into the tiny anteroom, muffled by the glass and gray foam padding on the wall. A guitar and voice penetrate the barriers much better, though, surrounded by what sounds like a distorted violin and supported by a limber rhythm section. That sound is The Old Ceremony, the full-time, touring rock band in which Simonsen - a longtime Triangle musician who's now 42, married and with a home and land to call his own - plays organ and vibraphone. Like Simonsen, The Old Ceremony, which celebrates its fifth year this summer, is aging. In spite of all five members now being over 30, though, the band concerns itself more with not growing stale musically - preventable - than with growing older physically - inevitable. Indeed, the quintet remains as adventurous as it was when frontman Django Haskins formed it in 2004 as a jazz-and-theater-influenced chamber-pop ensemble. And even if it means watching the rest of the world mature, they want to renew themselves by taking risks, to be evolved and still evolving. To wit, the quintet spent nearly three years completing its third album, Walk on Thin Air, filling its rock 'n' roll songs about love and, well, getting older with unexpected nuance and texture. As immediate as it is intricate, it's the band's best work to date, full of charisma that depends on a chemistry that's developed steadily over the last five years. Tonight, The Old Ceremony forgoes much of Walk on Thin Air and works primarily through its back catalog, deciding which old tunes to revisit for an upcoming CD release party at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro. Bassist Matt Brandau thinks they've been softening the groove of one tune too much. Haskins and drummer Dan Hall discuss the swing of another. Notes and requests are made. Schedules are discussed. Rehearsal is dismissed. The Beck's Dark in the next room is opened, and the band gathers around the mixing board in the practice space, which doubles as Simonsen's recording studio.
"I really like it when Django comes in with new stuff now," says Hall, who like everyone else here has been with The Old Ceremony from the start. "It's really exciting, more so now than ever." Brandau agrees: "We've been settling into our roles, but it's still evolving. It's the best of both worlds, really.
"Before, it was more of a struggle to do the right thing or worrying whether this works or that works. Now there's less of that and [more of] 'This feels great. It's right,'" continues Hall. "If you're in a relationship with anybody, at the beginning of the relationship, you're lying to the other person. You're performing. You're not as comfortable. You can't be as real." Sometimes, discovering that balance takes time.
When Django Haskins isn't touring with The Old Ceremony, he teaches guitar lessons to two dozen children at his house in Durham and a music studio in Carrboro. Most of the members of The Old Ceremony do something similar, supporting themselves through a mix of touring, session work with other bands, and teaching others what they've spent the past two or more decades learning. For the most part, Haskins is thrilled to be in that position - playing music to pay his bills, whether or not fame ever comes calling. "The funny thing about being a rock musician is that there's a tendency to have this arrested development in your lifestyle. It's easy to live the rest of your life like you're 19," says Haskins, 35, single and boyish, his trimmed dark hair falling past the middle of his forehead. "People that I grew up with that I haven't seen for a long time ... I look at their lives, and they look like they're a different generation from me. I don't feel like I'm stuck in a college mindset, but I'm aware that the path the band has chosen as musicians isn't the normal timeline of an adult life."
About half of Walk on Thin Air examines those questions, but Haskins exclaims the answer on the opening track and the album's anthem, "Til My Voice is Gone": Upfront, Haskins stands at the brink of an abyss, swirls of violin and guitar notes circling him as he watches clouds and conflicts roll toward him. The anxious strings drop out, supplanted by a slowly opening organ melody, like the first rays of sunlight peaking through a dense storm: "I will stand up high on the sea wall/ where the wind is blowing strong/ And I will push this rock to the top of every hill that comes along," Haskins sings with an aplomb so casual he manages to throw in a "Yeah" mid-verse. The strings return, exuberant now, their cheery notes lifting on the low-lying organ hum. "And I will take the stand/ and raise my hand," Haskins continues. "And offer up this song/ and I will sing my tune until my voice is gone." The drums drop. The guitars jangle. Haskins sounds reinvented. "This is what I feel like I'm supposed to be doing with my life. I love it, and I don't really see that changing," says Haskins, who talks much like he sings, with lyrical rhythm and crisp enunciation. "That is the process of a lot of these songs, just coming to terms with that."
Walk on Thin Air is the eighth album of Haskins' career, solo or otherwise. A native of Gainesville, Fla., he grew up in a musical family, raised by two folk musicians who always had some classic record spinning beneath the turntable's needle. Haskins began fronting bands when he was 13 and continued writing songs at Yale University, where he studied English and Chinese. He moved to Hangzhou, a city of 4 million that sits at the edge of the East China Sea, and played solo shows to crowds that didn't understand his words. "I gained a lot of insight into what makes a song work with an audience that can't understand a word," he said of that experience two years ago. "It takes away all opportunities for in-references, clever lyrics, etc., and boils it down to melody, rhythm, feel and sound." Upon returning to America, Haskins moved to New York, recording a solo album before forming the band Django & The Regulars. After seven years in the city, he relocated to Chapel Hill and put the finishing touches on the second and final Regulars album with Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge. They formed International Orange, an explosive power-pop quartet helmed by three songwriters. Not long after turning 30, Haskins formed The Old Ceremony, which he describes as a reaction against International Orange's rock predilection. He had a stockpile of songs that he imagined accompanied by a jazz band with cosmopolitan flair, so he formed a loose collective of strings, drums and horns. Though at times chaotic, the experience of handing his songs - these precious, slaved-over ideas - to a group of musicians that changed from week to week steeled his resolve and improved his material.
"The big thing about this band is being able to, once I bring a song into the rehearsal, to really let go and let us all work on it together and change it," says Haskins. "Before I moved here, I would write a song, and that was the end of the process. The arrangement was peripheral. Now I see the writing as the first stage in a much longer process of making a thing - with the band." Haskins had to learn to take that risk with his band. In turn, the band's desire to take risks or to try something different has long been one of The Old Ceremony's greatest strengths. Last year, for instance, Brandau remixed the band's old records, turning some of the tracks into narcotic dub jams while amping others with heavy electronic backbeats. At Art on the Edge, a public arts festival in Raleigh, an aerial dancer suspended from the ceiling with sheer fabric and several tango dancers moved above and around the band during its hour-long performance. Our One Mistake, The Old Ceremony's second album, included "Bao Qian," a beautiful ballad Haskins wrote and sang in Mandarin. The band's currently working on a companion to the song. Walk on Thin Air includes a gentle, bass-led instrumental that recalls the vibraphone-and-drums jazz of Tortoise called "Hearts in Four." "Murmur" offers at a canon for whistles, vibraphone and violin, while "Ready to Go" - a song that fittingly pits the exuberance of being young and romantic against the anxiety of being mature and employed - sashays until it derails into a noisy coda, a sleek train disturbing the dining car when the conductor pulls the breaks. These are the new ideas that energize The Old Ceremony, even as its youngest member, violinist Gabriele Pelli, turns 30. "I feel in some ways, it seems people want you to write the same song over and over so they can, 'Well, it sounds like that. Put it there.' For us, that's always been so far from what we do," says Haskins. "We're not going to change that anytime soon."
When Dan Hall plays drums, he rarely looks down at his hands or his kit. Even on a complicated and fast new song the band's barely been playing for a few weeks, he stares straight ahead. He trusts his hands to fall where they should, like a wizened secretary in a typing pool knowing her fingers will find the home keys. Hall occasionally glances at his bandmates, nodding his way through a shift in the rhythm or watching Haskins ace a guitar solo that, after tonight's practice, Hall will compliment. The five members of The Old Ceremony enjoy making music in the same room. They admire one another's playing out loud. When Simonsen notices that Pelli's violin sounds a little different during a solo tonight, he asks what's changed, walking over to look at Pelli's new effects pedal. They talk shop for a bit and get ready for the next tune. "That, to me, was the crux of how this all stuck in the beginning," says Simonsen before detailing his relationships with the other band members that preceded The Old Ceremony's formation. "Once we had the unit together, everyone was very solid. There were very few weaknesses you wanted to distance yourself from. These were people I wanted to play music with, and getting together to rehearse on a weekly basis was a pleasure."
Indeed, the band's rehearsals are opinionated and rigorous, but they're more subdued and playful than anything. The members are prone to schoolyard banter to varying degrees, and Simonsen boasts that, on the road, they invent games and sports to occupy their time. Frennis - essentially, tennis for Frisbees that's playable anywhere lines can be drawn as on a tennis court - is a particular favorite. After explaining the rules, Simonsen begins packing his gear. He and several members of the band are headed into Carrboro to play a weekly pick-up gig with some friends at a bar called Southern Rail. Like Frennis, or taking risks on records, or singing a song as a woman dances overhead, it keeps the business of being a band, even as the world keeps spinning, from becoming a bore. "I feel like we all have a real stake in the music that we're making now that, maybe when we started, we didn't," says Haskins. "It's just such an investment. It's your whole life, really. For as many years as you're in it, you're married to these five guys."
by Grayson Currin, Independent Weekly, 2.11.2009