protomartyr Under Color of Official Right (LP, £14.25)label: Hardly Art
In a city full of brilliant people with dead-end jobs and dampened by bitter-cold winters, playing music offers a cheap outlet. Protomartyr’s taut, austere rock was incubated in a freezing Detroit warehouse littered with beer cans and cigarette butts and warmed, feebly,by space heaters. Short songs made for short practices, and the band learned quickly not to waste time. Despite the cold, Protomartyr emerged with a sound that is idiosyncratic but relatable, hooky but off-kilter. Protomartyr’s economical rock elicits comparisons to possible antecedents like Pere Ubu or The Fall as well as local contemporaries like Frustrations or Tyvek (whose frontman Kevin Boyer played bass in an early iteration of Protomartyr). Singer Joe Casey’s dry declarative snarl serves as a reliable anchor, granting his bandmates — guitarist Greg Ahee, drummer Alex Leonard and bassist Scott Davidson — the opportunity to explore textures and reinforce the rhythm section. This is never more apparent than on the band’s second LP and Hardly Art debut. Where 2012’s No Passion All Technique favoured comparatively straightforward punk structures, Under Color takes a more exploratory approach. “Tarpeian Rock” places punk vitriol against a minimalist backing and “Scum, Rise!” casts shadows with guitars that alternately chime and clang. The cheap outlet, crafted by cold hands in a poorly insulated practice space has, perhaps unwittingly, become a model of Motor City efficiency. And, more than that, it’s produced a stunner of a second album.
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