Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent

Story posted October 9, 2017 in CommRadio by Owen Paiva

Post-Punk - punk with a more experimental nature, with elements of many other genres incorporated in it - is going strong after a turn of the century revival. Protomartyr is a relative newcomer to the genre, with the band founded in 2008. However, they have steadily become one of post-punk’s most successful bands and their newest album, Relatives in Descent, is proof of that. The Detroit based act combines 70’s U.K. punk and Motor City garage-rock in a unique and stylish way and the band continued its style on the newest album in a very satisfying way.

The album has an uneasy theme to it, with a bleak view on the future ahead for the United States. There is not a unified narrative on the album, but theme is what connects the album, which can sometimes lead to some disjointed songs, but when frontman Joe Casey’s unique songwriting meshes, the results are brilliant. Casey’s booming baritone voice adds to the uneasy nerves felt on the album. “Windsor Hum” is the perfect example of the theme, with Casey singing about looking across the river to Canada and wondering about if things are better in the Great White North.

The backing instrumentals shape the nerves and uneasiness of most of the album, with a dark and depressing sound felt, most notably again on “Windsor Hum.” Different punk influences are felt throughout the album, with “Male Plague” close to a modern day Sex Pistols song, while “Don’t Go to Anacita” more akin to The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs” and London Calling as a whole. The band mixes things up on many songs, but the uneasiness persists, even on the happier sounding songs. The drum beat can be a bit distracting, especially on “A Private Understanding” which made that song very difficult to listen to, with the drums not quite meshing with the rest of the instruments, but still managed to capture the uneasy vibe.

The two best songs on the album are arguably the two that differ the most from the dark, eerie sound on the rest of the album. “Don’t Go to Anacita” is the happiest sounding song on the album in terms of instrumentals, with a lighter approach that takes inspiration from some of 70’s Punk lighter songs. The song is able to have sad lyrics delivered in a way that is upbeat and matches the happier instrumentals. “Night-Blooming Cereus” is a brief respite of the tension built up on the rest of the album, with a song about hope and rebirth of life to which the album wastes no time in returning to the tension and unease. “The Chuckler” is another song with happy instrumentals but a very melancholic performance by Casey contrasting wonderfully with the cheerful instrumentals. The album is very good at varying the style of the songs, while still maintaining the overarching tones.

At times, the mixing can be a bit chaotic with the instrumentals drowning out Casey’s voice and the drums can be distracting taking away from the rest of the performances. The album has no uniform sound either and the album itself requires multiple listens to truly appreciate its quality.

The album’s strong second half saves it from problems faced early on, but the fact that the album requires multiple listens to really understand and appreciate can be inconvenient. If Protomartyr can find a way to clean up some of the mixing issues faced on the album for their next project, then it will be a truly special album.

Rating: 7/10


Owen Paiva is a freshman majoring in film/video. To contact him, email owenpaiva@sbcglobal.net.