Recording information: The Fidelitorium, Kernersville, NC.
The three years between the Old Ceremony's fifth and sixth albums included bandleader Django Haskins' participation in the Big Star live tribute Big Star's Third in 2014. The project included organizer Chris Stamey of the dB's, Mike Mills of R.E.M., Jon Auer of the Posies, Big Star's Jody Stephens, and many more, and led to some high-profile collaborators on 2015's Sprinter. With guest performances by Mills, some arrangements by Stamey, and production by jangle pop luminary Mitch Easter at his Fidelitorium in Kernersville, North Carolina, the resulting ten tracks forge a robust and adventurous chamber pop outing. With Mills on bass and backup vocals, Haskins evokes slinky, valse musette-infused noir on "Magic Hour," a music-themed cautionary tale ("But no matter whether the larynx or the battery/It will fail, you'll see"). "Live It Down" demonstrates early pop/rock sensibilities; meanwhile, "Efige" is an unexpected and committed version of a Greek pop song from the '60s, sung in Greek. The ballad "Ghost of Ferriday" showcases the band's typically bountiful but uncluttered instrumentation in a way that exposes each voice -- acoustic and slide guitars, organ, strings, vibraphone, drums, and more -- as they dramatize an epic narrative with lyrics like "A headlight fades in a night so full of howling." The cinematic nature of much of the album is also reflected in the lyrics of the epic, Beatlesque "Go Dark," punctuated by strings and melodic percussion: "This is the part of the movie where the music dies/Just before the waterfall appears." On the whole, Sprinter is an effective diversion, managing cohesion on its journey through styles and lyrical landscapes, and likely a delight for the fans of their fluid, sometimes elegant quirkiness. ~ Marcy Donelson