Relatives In Descent
In the main, bands from Detroit have tended to excel when it comes to delivering exciting, inventive guitar rock of the hard-edged, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners variety and Protomartyr are no exception despite their fondness for the more literary and arty side of the equation.
For the past decade, the Motor City quintet have been honing their desolate, distinctive brand of modern post punk/art noise with each new underground release. Their latest album Relatives In Descent – their first for new label Domino Records and fourth long-player in total – is their finest offering yet, a snapshot of a band at the very top of their game, delivering a carefully constructed and perfectly executed set of songs that roars out of the speakers with mean intent from start to finish.
Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Sonny DiPerri (Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors) and centered around singer Joe Casey’s enigmatic, post-apocalyptic poetry and guitarist Greg Ahee’s inventive, melodic lines – think a noisier version of Johnny Marr – Protomartyr’s songs are urgent blasts of angst-ridden post punk, sometimes melodic, sometimes noisy and always intense. Think Joy Division mixed in with Pere Ubu, Slint and The Smiths in their raw, rocked out, Hatful of Hollow guise, led by a clinically depressed Mark E Smith (The Fall) in philosophical, street preacher mode and you’ll be somewhere in the sonic ballpark.
“Anger is an energy,” ranted John Lydon astutely on the classic PiL track Rise and with Protomartyr howling at the moon propelled by a hurricane bluster of doom-laden, end of the world prose, angular, razor-sharp guitar attack and tight, gut pummeling rhythms on the majority of tracks on Relatives In Descent, it’s clear that the former Sex Pistol frontman was right on the money. In the midst of the sonic conflict and lyrical contempt of Protomartyr’s songs, there is an elemental power and thrust to their music that is undeniable.
When Protomartyr clicks and fires on all cylinders on Relatives In Descent, like on brooding, tense opener A Private Understanding, theirs is an impressive, visceral noise like no other. Here Casey – all clipped, almost spoken word vocals and angst-ridden, dystopian musings – loops the hypnotic refrain “she’s trying to reach you” into the void on the song’s chorus while persistent guitars and tribalistic drums busy themselves trying to back him up. Here Is The Thing swiftly follows, a rumbling Fall soundalike with Casey doing his best intoxicated Mark E Smith impression, pontificating mysteriously about an “old billionaire dead, buried in his hair shirt“. It’s captivating stuff that makes you want to investigate further.
Further along, Windsor Hum finds Casey wondering if life is indeed better across the Detroit River over in Canada while his bandmates cook up a potent musical brew that recalls angular Brit post-punkers like Josef K and The Sound with its bright, chiming guitars and anthemic vibe. The rabble-rousing pair of Don’t Go To Anacita and Up In The Tower find the band in full on caustic, venting mode while the painfully beautiful Night-Blooming Cereus is the album’s contemplative moment with the band coming across like TheTeardrop Explodes circa Kilimanjaro with its atmospheric synth soundscape. The Echo and The Bunnymen soundalike Corpses In Regalia and the doomy, gothic Half Sister are the album’s stellar closing tracks and both point towards a promise of even greater things to come from the band, continuing their march towards greatness.
According to its press release, Relatives In Descent is “a record for the times: a headlong dive into the morass of life in America in 2017, with all the dread, fear, and tumult that entails.” On top of that, it’s a compelling, multi-layered record that passionately wears its heart on its sleeve and fearlessly puts everything on the line for its listeners. It’s by no means an easy or immediate listening experience but persevere, and you’ll be rewarded with a record of considerable substance that stays with you long after its last song has ended.