Protomartyr has proven that less can be more with its sophomore album, Under Color Of Official Right.
The Detroit-based experimental punk-rock quartet has put together a deafening, minimalistic record that likens itself to a mixture of The National and early Interpol, dwelling on melancholy subject matter with a subtle, upbeat flair.
The result is one catchy, noisy, hell of an album. Joe Casey’s vocals and lyrics give Protomartyr’s music a tenacious edge that is reinforced by guitarist Greg Ahee, bassist Scott Davidson, and drummer Alex Leonard, all doing a flawless job of playing on Casey’s dark themes and stylistically grim voice.
Under Color Of Official Right seizes you from the very start and never loses hold, progressively dragging you further into the somber world Protomartyr constructs around the bleak aspects of its hometown.
The darkest of these is the record’s first single, “Scum, Rise!” The song covers the fictional explosion of a sports bar in town that kills everyone inside, as well as a father abandoning his son at 7 years old, among other things. Instrumentally, the song is eerie and vigorous, setting the scene for Casey’s nightmarish lyrics and intense vocals.
The emotion behind the song is potent, especially as Casey viciously barks the repeated line, “Scum, Rise!” between shocking narratives.
These aberrant stories show the scum of the world are everywhere, whether through a personal connection or a freak outbreak of brutality.
Either way, it’s hard not to feel as helpless as the kid when Casey frantically restates, “There’s nothing you can do.”
The upbeat tracks still have the same bleak themes, namely “Violent.” The juxtaposition of sordid mariner stories and the flowery tune makes the song subtly twisted, even with the cheery chorus stating, “If it’s violent, good/’Cause if it’s violent then it’s understood.” Protomartyr is reaching far past the story of the song here, exposing the mindset that violence is a natural and acceptable reaction to adversity. Though this can be true, the song comments on the absurdity of violence, as the story begins with one man prepared to shoot another because he’s snoring too loudly in his sleep. Still, the surprising musicality is the most attractive part of the song, contrasting with Casey’s lyrics and gloomy vocals.
Protomartyr’s instrumentals are actually one of the best aspects of the album, coming across as both minimal and elaborate at the same time.
Ahee never does too much or too little, settling for a perfect middle ground between simple riffs and bold, over-driven chords. He shines on tracks like “What The Wall Said,” where he shifts from droning, muddy chords to shimmering, triumphant guitar, and “Tarpeian Rock,” the band’s experimental masterpiece.
Still, the band works best as a whole, playing off of each other with pristine expertise.
The best tracks are those with a specific feel, like the empowering “Bad Advice” that at times sounds like a simplified Rage Against the Machine song, or “Come & See,” which has a dancey beginning that leads up to a clamorous, thundering ending.
“I’ll Take That Applause” closes the album on the best song, showing all of the members at their best.
The track is contagious and intense, kicking into the most energetic moment on Under Color Of Official Right with roaring guitar and epic drums. By the end, it’s hard not to agree with Casey, who starts the song by yelling, “And I’ll take that applause because I deserve it.”
Under Color Of Official Right is an intelligent, cohesive release from a band that’s gaining some rightful attention with its two singles.
Protomartyr has concocted a telling look at society through vast lyrical content and outlandish storytelling, all the while incorporating catchy tunes and strategic songwriting. There’s a lot of subtle depth to this album, making it even more valuable than it appears to be at first glance.
Protomartyr – Under Color Of Official Right tracklist:
- “Ain’t So Simple”
- “Want Remover”
- “Trust Me Billy
- “What The Wall Said”
- “Tarpeian Rock”
- “Bad Advice”
- “Son of Dis”
- “Scum, Rise!”
- “I Stare At Walls”
- “Come & See”
- “I’ll Take That Applause”