The Old Ceremony’s “Tender Age”

“‘Tender Age’ tells a tale not of novelty, youth, or immaturity, but of sly security, adroitness, and versatility.” -CB

C.E. Breslin

out of 10

The Old Ceremony
Tender Age
September 17, 2010
Sonablast Records

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, andAnnuals).

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.