With Sprinter, The Old Ceremony's sixth album and second for Yep Roc, Chapel Hill's purveyors of indie noir expand their stylistic sweep while holding true to the group's giddy sense of unease.
Kicking off with electronic effects, which recall Ennio Morricone's eerie "Man With a Harmonica," disc opener "The Sprinter" seems to be settling into The Old Ceremony's template of dark, orchestral pop. When the cut surges to anxious, banging rock, it's clear that guitarist and master of ceremonies Django Haskins is taking his crew into uncharted territory.
Moody churchyard organ takes a left turn into hyperactive '80s New Wave on "Live it Down," which manages to be cool, confident and slightly creeped-out all at the same time. By turns funky, surging and ethereal, the voodoo blues "Mission Bells" chugs along until it's unexpectedly overtaken by the firestorm of Haskins' scorching guitar.
There are plenty of signposts to remind us that this still the same old Old Ceremony, namely the queasy carnival violins on the bubbly yet pensive "Magic Hour," and the jaunty shuffle and double tracked, dueling lead vocals on "Over Greenland," but Haskins and the band take detours here that are wonderfully weird — even by the standards of this eclectic combo.
Case in point is "Efige," a Greek Pop song from the '60s that's given a lusty, off-kilter reading in its native language over reverbed guitars and corkscrewing fiddle.
Lashings of vertiginous strings, courtesy of producer and DBs founder Chris Stamey, and shuddery bass supplied by REM's Mike Mills further broaden the album's palate.
The Old Ceremony is still reliably dire and cryptic, but now they're training a jaundiced eye on new horizons.