By: Brie East
Album: The Agent Intellect
Label: Hardly Art
Release Date: October 9, 2015
Post-punk is coming back in a big way. Along with bands such as Eagulls and Iceage, the Detroit-based band Protomartyr is the face of modern incarnation of the movement, and the group has just released their third album.
The band, led by frontman Joe Casey, has shown incredible growth in their sound. The album sounds almost like a Lee Ranaldo (of Sonic Youth) side project, with vocals that sound like spoken word poetry. This trait is especially present in tracks like “The Hermit” and “Clandestine Time”. The album also features awesome riffs (for a lack of a better term, as this is an understatement) from guitarist Greg Ahee and bassist Scott Davidson. This is the most striking individual aspect of the band — the drums, with a good, steady sound, seem to back up the sharp guitar riffs. The band shows more comfort with experimentation on this album, as they try more aural textures in their songs, slipping through moods with each song, as well as including samples on songs like “The Hermit”. Casey also invokes the spirit of Ian Curtis, the late frontman of Joy Division, further bringing a moodier vibe to the album. His songwriting also shows growth on this album, as the album has a narrative from song to song that not only makes sense, but is gripping and haunting.
Songs on the album, such as “Uncle Mother’s” and “Why Does It Shake?”, have a dreary, dystopian vibe to them. This is where the one issue with the album is — the individual songs are able to stand on their own, but when put together, however, they are inconsistent. Despite the over-present darkness on the album, some of the songs stray away. The album bounces around between the more dreary sound and a more poppy vibe on songs like “I Forgive You” and “The Devil In His Youth.” The whiplash from the shift in mood of the songs is massive with this album. Nonetheless, the album is still a staple in modern post-punk.
The less moody songs on the album are not necessarily more accessible. After all, the album deals with some pretty heavy subject matter, such as Casey’s loss of his mother to Alzheimer’s disease and the darker aspects of life in Detroit. As mentioned before, the subject matter is further aided by the strong narrative focus on this album. The song “The Devil in His Youth” seems to look at the root of evil in this world (who turns out to be a teenage boy in his suburban bedroom.
The band seems to stand out from their companions on Hardly Art, as they have a much darker sound from acts such as Hunx and his Punx, Chastity Belt and Tacocat, but they bring a welcome gravity to the lineup. Protomartyr also enters the indie rock realm without a care. They seem unconcerned with pretenses and fronts. With the amount of recognition that the band has received from music publications such as Pitchfork and Consequence of Sound, it seems the band has been rewarded for their efforts.