Album Review: Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right

protomartyr-under-color-of-official-rightMoving between new wave and post punk, Protomartyr’s newest effort Under Color of Official Right consists of propulsive percussion, catchy guitars, and detached coolness. The group has managed to take all the best tendencies of New Order and Gang of Four and filter them through their own contemporary songwriting. These songs rattle and shake with fury as wandering guitar melodies dance forward through a haze of distortion and frontman Joe Casey mumble half-sings lyrics.

What’s amazing is the band’s ability to be so impressive in such small packages. The coarse whine of guitar and Casey’s lackadaisical sing-song delivery make “Pagans” completely addicting at once, and the song is only a minute and eleven seconds long. Other examples of this method litter the record–brief standouts like “Ain’t So Simple,” with it’s dancey beat and distorted guitars. Only three of the album’s fourteen songs pass three minutes, and maybe that’s the reason that even those don’t seem to overstay their welcome. The album’s longest track “Come & See” features nuanced changes from angular stop-start production to steady down strummed guitar and an understated melody before the whole thing erupts into a climactic finale.

Protomartyr aren’t all snarl and spit; with both “What the Wall Said” and “Violent” the band showcases their restraint. On the former, Casey’s voice wanders wearily through sections of only drums and bass interspersed with waves of guitar. On the latter, slinky guitars slide around tom-centric percussion as Casey delivers one of the album’s more dynamic melodies, even if it remains off-kilter. Both tracks allow the album some breathing room and provide a diversity that strengthens the effort as a multi-faceted and complex work.

The record is one more in a long line of albums from Seattle label Hardly Art that have made them one of the country’s most exciting imprints. Like-minded bands such as Parquet Courts and Tyvek have found success with similar models of songcraft, but Protomartyr’s particular brand of post-punk channels angst and vitriol as readily as jaded fatigue. Hailing from Detrioit, the band’s musical approach acts fittingly as the voice for a marginalized city working to reinvent itself while surrounded by a mass of naysayers. For Protomartyr, the sound of disenchantment is a beautiful thing.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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