Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tender Age in Bloom

The Old Ceremony Tender Age album art
The Old Ceremony Tender Age

“All at once I lost it,” Django Haskins laments during one of the more low-key moments on the The Old Ceremony’s fourth full length release, “the thread that kept me here…and then it reappeared.”

The sudden reappearance of a lost thread is apt enough to describe the experience of listening to Tender Age itself. The fourteen-song companion piece to last year’s Walk On Thin Air trades out the latter’s stadium rock ambitions for a breezier, more intimate approach, one better suited to the quieter moments off stage, beyond the reach of the floodlights. But much as Haskins worries in “All at Once,” it’s easy to lose Tender Age’s larger musical threads, particularly as so many ghostly sonic moments, which seem at once familiar and strange, appear quickly, fade away, only to resurface later in odd and delightful ways. Tender Age has many pockets to turn out, and while some prove deeper than others, the album avoids appearing in pastiche by relying on subtle detail (a plinking piano key at low decibel, an organ on a feedback loop, a squeaking door hinge) to create depth rather than simply cluttering the stereo field with shiny things to look at or, more precisely, listen to.

What’s more, the musical allusions that Haskins and Co. make here -- and there are many, ranging from Liu Mingyuan to Guided by Voices to Linda Thompson to the Tindersticks – have the happy effect of feeling earned rather than merely lifted from the source. On “I Don’t Believe It,” for example, the beautiful verse section lilts with all the sparse power of an After the Gold Rush deep cut (perhaps a knowing nod to “I Believe in You”?) before turning suddenly into a bright chorus that sends you scrambling to unearth your worn copy of Double Fantasy. And yet, in the final tally, songs such as the title track, “Ruined My Plans” and “Guo Qu” are all the more enjoyable for seeming to embrace rather than shy away from these quotations.

In keeping with the theme of slipping threads, however, it must be said that the album’s best cut – “Wither on the Vine, Part 2” – succeeds in a way quite unlike the other stand out tracks. Wither’s effortless charm is totally self-contained; it’s haunting sense of familiarity derives not from any musical antecedent but by its willingness to inhabit a kind of wistful but unromanticized melancholy that feels immediately lived-in and authentic. Although the least representative of Tender Age’s sonic character – the song is a lo-fi love letter to the easy interplay of guitar, banjo, and floor tom – Wither best exemplifies the essential character of the aesthetic here: playful, searching, at times prodding, but always and ultimately tender. --Hidden Tiger

The Old Ceremony will release Tender Age with a performance in Carrboro at The Cat's Cradle on Friday September 17th. Lifted Praise Gospel Singers open. Tickets are $10 advance or $12 at the door. e-tix link to tickets

The Old Ceremony Press Photo

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