Protomartyr aren’t afraid of transfiguration.
Their last record, ‘The Agent Intellect’, was a prime example of clinical post-punk. Cold, reverberated, and static, it clicked and fizzed with a sense of anxiety that made it feel more like it was borne out of Mancunian Industrial districts than the cold riverbed that forms the central line of the Canadian / US border.
Their latest has warmed them. Not emotionally, but it’s soundscape encapsulates with more colour and density than previous albums.
New elements introduced to Protomartyr’s abrasion have softened the palette, making for a more intelligent listen. As an example, staccato strings pinch their way into the climactic ending of ‘The Chuckler’, building another layer which proves their new found depth as songwriters.
Also, more synthesisers lurk in the fresh shadow that Protomartyr are casting for themselves. ‘Night-Blooming Cereus’ has a soft sweeping oscillator bedding down the track, pulsating up into the soundscape at key moments. It makes their silhouette less fuzzy, more refined.
Joe Casey’s nexus of written words for these songs are another aspect of Protomartyr that’s taken a huge step forward in their scuffed shoes; his melancholic yet wild metaphors conjure a surreal imagery. Even if “Elvis outside of Flagstaff / driving a camper van / looking for meaning in a cloud mass / he sees the face of Joseph Stalin, and is disheartened” is meant to be taken at face value as an image, it’s got such a poetic utterance to it.
Casey’s delivery and articulation is so chaotic and charismatic that I couldn’t give a shit if there’s no hidden subtext to his scripture; It’s such a satisfying listen. There’s no need to polish up that particular pair of metaphorical shoes; they’re well-worn favourites in the many aspects of Protomartyr’s sound. He needs to keep this authenticity going forward; the momentum’s great, currently.
Ultimately, the Detroit post-punk intellectuals bruise emotionally with ‘Relatives In Descent’ – a body of work that’s melancholic, dense, and contains a rich palette of instrumentation and lyrical imagery.
Let’s keep this transfiguration in full momentum; who knows what dark heights they can climb to.
‘Relatives In Descent’ is out September 29th
Words by Jack Stevens