Protomartyr : Relatives In Descent

The Motor City’s Protomartyr sound like modern harbingers of doom. Singer Joe Casey takes the podium front and center like a prophet telling us the secrets of our demise as a society in riddles, suggestions, and proclamations. Guitarist Greg Ahee blends melodic moments with outright blasts of contempt, while bassist Scott Davidson and drummer Alex Leonard lay the foundation to which Casey and Ahee can blast us with poetic chaos. They’ve been building their post-punk brand for nearly 10 years now and with each record they’ve honed their desolation music with precision, coming to near perfection with 2015s The Agent Intellect.

Protomartyr are back and have jumped from Hardly Art to Domino Records. Their debut with Domino is the poignantly titled Relatives In Descent, a post-punk/noise rock art piece that seems to reflect the current state of disarray our country is currently in. This record cuts delicately, but it still cuts deep.

One constant in the music of Protomartyr is the sense of urgency that pumps through each track. And yet you feel you must push forward there’s still an elegance in the poetry of Joe Casey and the music the band backs his words with. “A Private Understanding” opens with tension. A feeling that something important needs to happen. It opens with busy drums and the guitars trying to find resolve. There is a resolve in the chorus as Casey keeps repeating “She’s just trying to reach you”. “Here Is The Thing” sounds like Pere Ubu on a Gang of Four jag. Casey does his best street-level preacher; a dystopian philosopher preaching his sermon on the mound. “Windsor Hum” wonders if things might be better across the river, while “Night-Blooming Cereus” is much more of a contemplative track. This is the most Protomartyr have ever sounded like Wire. On the other side of that coin, “Up The Tower” explodes into musical shards and shrapnel with hardcore vigor. Mark E. Smith is somewhere in this track, rearing his angst-y, curmudgeonly head. “Corpses In Regalia” has an angular feel with the airtight rhythm section while Ahee lays down some almost Andy Sommers guitar vibe. “Half Sister” sounds like doom and gloom for the coffeehouse crowd.

I think where Protomartyr succeed most is when they disengage the fuzz and noise and go for more of a fierce Smiths sound. Jangly guitars, tight rhythm section, and plenty of room for Joe Casey to spit his vitriol all over the place. When things get too noisy Casey gets lost in the mix and that’s a shame as he’s got plenty to say.

Relatives In Descent is a continued steady march towards something greater. There are moments that feel they need a little tweaking, but those are few and far between. These Motor City prophets are still as urgent as ever. We just need to open our ears and take it all in.

7.6 out of 10

Protomartyr : The Agent Intellect

Over the last fifteen years there have been many bands to emerge that wore the post-punk moniker proudly. That’s not to say they deserved to wear that moniker, mind you. That’s also not say they picked that moniker out themselves. It seems music critics(I’m not one as I don’t get invited to their soirees, nor do I care what’s cool or hip) can be sort of lazy in their name-calling. The National, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Art Brut, and a few more have been given the title of “post-punk band” over the years, and while each of those bands have put out great albums at one point or another in their careers they’ve proven to not be what we music nerds know as “post-punk”. Mission Of Burma, The Fall, Wire, Gang of Four, early Talking Heads, Joy Division, Television(to some degree), and early Cure were what I consider classic post-punk.

However, there have been a handful of bands to rise from the ashes of those post-punk yesteryears that possess that jagged spirit of post-punk. Iceage is one of them. Viet Cong is another. The newest, to my ears anyways, is Detroit’s Protomartyr. Protomartyr have that perfect balance of bloodied and bruised angst while underneath it all there’s a bit of doomed romanticism. That’s the recipe for not just great post-punk, but a great band. The Agent Intellect is Protomartyr’s new album. It seems pissed off at the world and then some. It’s also an intellectually aural beating. The best kind of beating, really.

Joe Casey’s voice is the Greek Chorus of Protomartyr. He’s the voice in your head telling you what you don’t want to conceptualize with your own words. In “The Devil In His Youth” Casey sings “Before recorded time/In some suburban room, see/The devil in his youth/He grew up very healthy/With the blessings of his father/The devil in his youth”, telling the tale of societies evils being born not in a childhood of violence and abuse, but of suburban bliss and seemingly parental love. Casey delivers these words like a drunken carnival barker. “Cowards Starve” has the push of Mission of Burma and the smirk of Mark E. Smith behind it. “Pontiac 87” is a dreamier trip from these Detroit guys as Casey talks about seeing the Pope in 1987 as a kid and the hopeless feeling it left him with. You really do get the feeling of burnt out buildings and steely gray horizons as the Detroit River seeps into Lake St. Clair and Lake Eerie.

Protomartyr never get stale or lose the buzz of tension. “Dope Cloud” is about as catchy as they get, and it’s pretty damn catchy. It’s a weird little tune that goes from this quirky guitar riff into Casey singing “It’s not gonna save you, man”. “The Hermit” buzzes with anxiety, while “Clandestine Time” is this uneasy breeze of Bauhaus and Casey’s vocals hint at a slightly mad Matt Berninger. This is the genius of Protomartyr; balancing melancholy, anger, and madness so beautifully. “Why Does It Shake” seethes and spits with clenched fist indignation. The album ends on the one-two slap in the face of “Ellen” and “Feast of Stephen”. With both of these the angst seems to subside and we get an introspective vibe. “Ellen” is over six minutes of almost early R.E.M. jangle and breeze, while “Feast of Stephen” is a melancholy ode St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, or Protomartyr. Or maybe it’s about something completely different.

Regardless, the song makes me sad and I love it.

Maybe I went on too long about what post-punk is. I don’t know. I will say this, Protomartyr’s The Age Intellect is a hell of an album. It makes me excited about music again, much like Viet Cong(or whatever they’re called now) did earlier this year. If you think you know what post-punk is, then you need to get this album. Savor it. Then play it again. Repeat.

8.8 out of 10