With Detroit roots, Protomartyr shares a lineage with the bluesy, barroom punk of the Stooges. But Joy Division currents can also be found in the band’s highway-pounding rhythmic drive. Leader Joe Casey, however, comes across as a bartender-turned-Poet Laureate, dispending highly literate lectures with forceful flair.
Music from this album would be a great soundtrack to: A film from a fellow Michigan artist, of course: Michael Moore. Considering many believe the album’s opening track contains references to the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, it seems only fitting that Protomartyr’s works should grace one of Moore’s politically minded documentaries.
It’s loud, bold, and brash, so consider it ideal to blast while working up the courage to go door-to-door asking your neighbors if they’re registered to vote.
Protomartyr can get wordy. The opening track on Relatives in Descent features the following lines: “The night is an accumulation of dark air/The scholar will be forever poor/Gross gold runs headlong to boor/I don’t want to hear those vile trumpets anymore/Call me Heraclitus The Obscure.” And did we mention this is an example of the band at its most topical?
Not that you should be intimated. Protomartyr might be “thinkin’ person’s rock,” but the group hits fairly hard, and Relatives in Descent taps into a decidedly modern paranoia. There’s contrast in the low-down rumble and red-alert chime of the guitars and bass—as if every song warns of an ambulance on the horizon. Throughout, such urgency sounds vitally tuneful.
For songs like “Don’t Go to Antarctica” and “My Children,” Greg Ahee’s guitar work carries a machete-like sharpness that supplies forward momentum while the bass and drums amplify the tension with swamp-like depth. On works such as “Night-Blooming Cereus,” Protomartyr opts for a more open and atmospheric route. But don’t think the quartet might be losing its edge just because it stares into a wide-open abyss. Relatives in Decent serves as a protest album that doesn’t necessarily feel like one. Casey and company pack so much heft into a song, each will take days, if not more, to fully unpack. What’s even more impressive is how visceral it all feels.
Domino’s vinyl pressing of the album takes advantage of the group’s relative density. Focus is placed on each and every word Casey utters. And while the rhythms and backing come across without much separation or distinction, the resultant muddle of sound seems apt for Protomartyr’s garage-rock-styled conflagration. Better still are the inserts—a poster as well as a D.I.Y.-like pamphlet that, most helpfully, contains the lyrics. No digital download can compete.
Last chance to change your mind...