Release Date: Apr 8, 2014
Record label: Hardly Art
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Noise-Rock, Punk Revival, Punk-Pop
Instead of introducing themselves with flattery and fondness, Detroit foursome Protomartyr discredit their abilities by lampooning each other with a rapier wit. “Hello there/You are all now witnesses/ to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men," vocalist Joe Casey jests in a monosyllabic voice, proceeding to refer his bandmates as a “jumped-up homunculus” and a “flannel acre”. Perhaps it’s a way to demystify the seriousness of being in a band, a way of humanizing their bond even if it’s cheekily expressed in an endearing way.
Post-punk quartet Protomartyr's second album Under Color of Official Right follows their stellar 2012 debut No Passion, All Technique with an expanded sense of exploration as well as more nuanced production. The band was spawned from the same closely knit scene of Detroit noise punk bands that produced Roach Clip, the Intended, and Tyvek (Tyvek songwriter Kevin Boyer even played guitar on early Protomartyr albums), and their earliest output shared the same raw energy and sloppy, bristling approach as those bands. Without losing the push of their less refined early recordings, Protomartyr sharpen all the elements that make them stand out with Under Color of Official Right.
As much as it’s a shortcut to pigeonholing artists, regional affiliation as it pertains to the many facets and faces of punk rock is a tricky terrain to toe, considering that the attitude’s the thing. That said, Detroit’s Protomartyr seems to wedge itself into some sonic crevice of the Motor City’s storied musical past only by proximity; the band’s residency in a city quickly becoming a metaphor for grimy rebuilding, resilience, some lost relic of the American Dream is an unfortunate sidebar. On Under Color of Official Right, the foursome’s sophomore record, Protomartyr nonchalantly pulls out pretty much every stop available in an effort not to be easily hemmed in to any preconceived corner of the tempting urge to align them, even passingly, with your Stooges, your Dirtbombs, et al.
On their debut album No Passion All Technique, Detroit's Protomartyr excelled at crafting a post-punk onslaught that was thrillingly breakneck and oppressive, showcasing a new band capable of stomping, shredding, and obliterating. The songs ranged from anthemic and rafter-reaching to churning and bleak, grounded by frontman Joe Casey's deep, looming vocals that moved seamlessly from a croon to a deranged bark. It was an impressive showing of both mastery and versatility.
At what point does New Wave finally become Old Wave? And can we really stop calling everything guitar-based recorded after Never Mind The Bollocks post-punk? As lazy musical genres, the aforementioned take some beating. Yet it's difficult to envisage many commentators not referencing either when discussing Protomartyr and their second LP, Under Color Of Official Right. Formed in 2008 in Detroit, Michigan, their music undoubtedly owes more to England between 1978 and 1980 with a smidgen of The Walkmen for good measure.
At its foundation, yeah, Protomartyr's a post-punk band: shaded instrumentation; baritone-y, Ian Curtis-style vocals; fairly muted swagger–you know. But the Detroit quartet color their sophomore full-length, Under Color of Official Right, with enough unexpected flourishes that it makes it a fierce and compelling standout of the subgenre withouth conforming too steadfastly to its confines.By coincidence or design, Under Color of Official Right definitely *feels* like a modern indie rock album. The band has the quirky lyrical bent of their labelmates (or even the National, to an extent), without necessarily sounding anything like those bands, and it plays into the music.
Protomartyr’s singer used to be a doorman. Watching Detroit from his kiosk, Joe Casey – who looks like a disgruntled middle manager after a cocaine breakfast – cultivated a rueful perspective that personifies their pissed-off punk. They released a bilious debut in 2012, but its follow-up is a more subtle piece of social commentary. Needly bass, tumultuous drums and big, dirty guitars careen beneath Casey’s deadpan delivery, building riotously enjoyable labyrinthine passages that lead to nowhere, though Protomartyr make the journey feel essential.
Attitude is hardly everything for Protomartyr, but as with any punkish band worth its salt, the up-and-coming Detroit quartet has forged its own identity by combining style and substance. While the band’s rabble-rousing indie sound pieces together shards of the Fall, Gang of Four, and Mission of Burma, it’s something more intangible about Protomartyr that prompts you to trace its lineage back to these spiritual forefathers, an agit-rock charisma you either have or you don’t. That’s a quality that Protomartyr certainly possesses on its new effort Under Color of Official Right, a collection of hot-and-bothered post-post-punk songs that convey a world-weary melancholy without ever wallowing in it.
Can cagey post-punk and ringing indie pop melodies share an unholy union? Of course they can. With workmanlike focus and shadowy charm, Detroit band Protomartyr’s Under Color of Official Right, the follow-up to 2012 debut No Passion All Technique, chastises you for asking the question. Protomartyr takes you to task in the gruff, sometimes comically severe voice of frontman Joe Casey, whose alternately sing-songy and yelping vocalizations lend Under Color much of its stylistic weight.
The Detroit guitar boys in Protomartyr totally nail the sound of youthful melancholy. Joe Casey sings every line like he's the drunkest guy in the bar, fighting to keep on his feet for one more round. All over their superbly funny second album, Protomartyr chase the post-punk guitar buzz of classic American bands like the Dream Syndicate, while also evoking raincoat-clad Brits like the Wedding Present.
This Detroit post-punk band set some tongues wagging at SXSW – the recent Texan music conference festival – for being something of an anti-buzz band. Industrial decline in the 1970s yielded British post-punk; Detroit's post-industrial evisceration is reflected in Protomartyr's dour, seething, resigned songs in which drums tumble and guitars take dubby turns. Scum, Rise features a childhood abandonment ("There's nothing you can do," sneers singer Joe Casey) and on Bad Advice, he half-raps, half-rants à la Mark E Smith over a riff that distantly echoes the Clash's Guns of Brixton.
Protomartyr’s 2013 debut No Passion All Technique was a rattling, rumbling freight train of a punk rock album, laid to tape, flaws and all, in a single long day. A ferocious energy propelled it from end to end, a coruscating working man’s humor glinted through end-of-times grim-ness. It was a fine, striking debut, but if you missed it, never mind.
Protomartyr — Under Color Of Official Right (Hardly Art)Joe Casey tells it like it is, and in the case of Protomartyr’s second LP – their first for Sub Pop JV squad Hardly Art, and also their first since their hometown of Detroit filed for bankruptcy – he’s telling it like a victim of recent history, contained and eloquent, letting his aggressions out through well-considered phrases and an extended set of nuances. He explains what it’s like to be in his band (“some sort of confrontation/between me and these three men,” he croons in “Ain’t So Simple”) in language resembling a playful treason. He rattles off a list of people deserving classical punishment, Roman-style, flung from the cliffs of “Tarpeian Rock” (“rich crusties … adults dressed as children … neon bands on laptops … do-nothing know-it-alls … alt-weekly types” and so on, which probably makes for an extemporaneous drubbing every time they play this song live).
The term “post-punk” has perhaps become one of the most versatile, and perhaps overused, terms in modern music. But this is not meant as a slight – what might seem overwhelming has also been a welcome mat for some of the most inventive and enjoyable music in the medium. Protomartyr is one such band to find a home in these cracks, and Under Color of Official Right typifies the type of sound and emotion that fits into this non-genre.
The city is a cold place. “20 degrees outsiiiiiiide,” Wiki raps again and again on “Snow Beach,” from the first full-length Ratking album, “So It Goes” (Hot Charity/XL). That song — which with its dusty sax loops could have been copied from a cassette of an old Stretch Armstrong ….
Protomartyr Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art) In the dark rut between technological triumphalism and a working class on the ropes, the time is ripe for Protomartyr's axiomatic post-punk. Encrypted menace, lonely tremolo, and herky-jerk rhythms abound on the Detroit quartet's second album. Joe Casey's vocals recall the dour, embittered bellow of Mark E.