Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent – Album Review by Killian Laher
Bands reviving the post-punk sound were everywhere in the early to mid noughties. They captured that nervous, jerky rhythm, slow brooding guitars and most of all, a singer with that voice. Ian Curtis has a bit to answer for alright. So you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve heard every possible variation on the theme, until now that is. This is American band Protomartyr’s fourth album and it crams loads of ideas into each song right from the start. Opening track A Private Understanding has an irregular rhythm, vaguely reminiscent of Joy Division’s Atrocity Exhibition, Greg Ahee’s ringing SST-era Sonic Youth channelling guitars and singer Joe Casey’s arresting, extraordinary voice. Echoing Nick Cave in his nineties pomp, the song is filled with lyrics like “Don’t want to hear those vile trumpets anymore” which sound great even if you don’t know what they mean. Ahee’s guitars explode into distorted wonder leaving Casey to repeat over and over “she’s just trying to reach you”. And that’s just the opening track.
Highlights abound, Here Is The Thing comes across like a less abrasive Fall, while the brief growling Caitriona and especially The Chuckler are a bit like a tougher version of The Walkmen, regretful melodies with heavy, gauzy guitars. But Casey is the main draw on the latter, singing about how “I guess I’ll keep on chuckling till there’s no more breath in my lungs” or “you say your name is Lazlo, I don’t think that is true”, and you just think ‘what the fuck’ in the best possible way.
Third song in My Children starts with slow, towering guitars and Casey babbling over and over about “to create, pass on, what’s mine now yours, pass on”, all the while the guitars and drums steadily pick up speed, gathering momentum to a surly Stranglers-style chorus (“don’t lean on me man cos I ain’t got nothing to give”). It’s one of the finest songs of the year.
Each song is bursting with ideas. Windsor Hum has Casey singing “everything’s fine” over guitars that suggest everything is anything but fine. Guitars at walking pace open Up The Tower before it breaks into a trashy chorus, while elsewhere icy keyboards introduce brooding, slow-burning Night-Blooming Census. Male Plague goes straight for the jugular with powerhouse guitar riffs and a chantalong chorus of “male plague, male plague”.
The slow grind of final track Half Sister brings proceedings full circle, Casey snarling over an almost Goth arrangement, before the song opens into a despairing, emotional closing section with Casey once again singing about how “she’s trying to reach you”.
There’s not a bad song here, and with so much invention in each one, you’ll be slow to tire of them. Do yourself a favour and give this album a listen if you like angsty, intelligent guitar music. Addictive.
Track List –
1. A Private Understanding
2. Here Is The Thing
3. My Children
5. The Chuckler
6. Windsor Hum
7. Don’t Go To Anacita
8. Up The Tower
9. Night-Blooming Census
10. Male Plague
11. Corpses In Regalia
12. Half Sister
A Private Understanding