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02
November 2017

Album Review: Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent

Protomartyr –
Relatives in Descent

“Not by my own hand…” Casey opens up. The frontman for this Detroit Post-Punk band is dismissive and lamenting, but never understates the importance of what he’s talking about as he goes over the current state of our world. His world. But, Casey immediately denies any ownership of both what has happened in the world and what he says about it. Like brackets around the album, his opening phrase both separates himself from it and opens the following 45 minutes for analysis. Whether you like it or not, the words are not him. They’re just the way things are.

On their fourth album, Protomartyr is fascinated with the unknown. Singer Joe Casey sings with a passionate indifference and lyrics always more concerned with exposition than action. He paints unfamiliar, complicated scenes whether it’s the bittersweet blooming cacti or the view across the river from their harrowed hometown of Detroit. It’s an emphasis of what we simply can’t know, and the instability everything is built upon, with emphasis pointed towards the US cultural and political climate.

Protomartyr is at their best when playing to these themes, with full control over what they’re giving and withholding from listeners, conveyed even further through Casey’s dread filled voice. Pounding, droning bass drums and guitar drive his lyrics and lead songs to sweep and withdraw and weave each track into the next.

Some of the strongest tracks in their discography appear consistently throughout. “Up the Tower” builds a soft rhythm with Casey vocally contemplative stating “What a lovely view” switching without warning into a cantankerous chant of “Throw him out” attacking the rulers that withhold something so lovely. “Night-Blooming Cereus” is as sorrowful as it is introspective, recounting the Ghost Ship tragedy from the DIY scene in late 2016. Casey’s emotions come out strongest here as he pleads to understand why the situation for these events are so undeniably American, and how easily it could have befallen the band themselves just a few years ago. Whether these opportunities for expression exist as expression or delusion he’s no longer sure. At this point, there’s little he is sure of.

Protomartyr is as strong as they’ve ever been. The fact that even after The Agent Intellect they continue to break their molds with such upward projection is as exciting as it is impressive. Relatives in Descent is a poignant commentary for large issues told through smaller, yet somehow more painful memories. Detroit as an epicenter of United States and capitalistic disparage is the star of this album, even when it isn’t the focus. Allusions and memories are woven throughout all pointing towards an unfortunate reality that Protomartyr offers no solace to because again, this is just the way things are.

Watch the music video for A Private Understanding, the album’s opening track below.

Review by Jackson Tucker

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