By JENNIFER KELLY
Protomartyr’s 2013 debut No Passion All Technique was a rattling, rumbling freight train of a punk rock album, laid to tape, flaws and all, in a single long day. A ferocious energy propelled it from end to end, a coruscating working man’s humor glinted through end-of-times grim-ness. It was a fine, striking debut, but if you missed it, never mind. Under Color of Official Right blows it right out the box. This is the best punk rock record you’ll hear this year — never mind that it’s not wholly or even really a punk rock record.
To begin with it’s a much clearer recording, one in which you can make out not just Joe Casey’s surreal, kitchen-sink spew of words, or the combustion engine commotion of Alex Leonard’s drums. This time, you can hear the bass — that’s Scott Davidson — bumping up from the bottom of every track, and the guitar— manned by Greg Ahee — is noticeably clearer, warmer and more varied. The songs, too, span a gamut of styles, from the rhythmic annihilation of mad-chanted “Tarpeian Rock” (this is where the Fall comparisons make sense), to the eerie new wave menace of “Scum, Rise” (think B-52s on a serious, serious bummer), to the Clash-into-Buzzcocks melodic fury of “Want Remover.”
Like Tyvek (which is as good a reference point as any for this unpinnable band), Protomartyr comes from Detroit, and the subject matter tends towards the ordinary and blue-collar— daytime tv, over-the-counter medication, deadbeat dads. Yet mad ingenuity warps the day-to-day here. Maybe it’s life in Mad Max’s Michigan headquarters, or maybe poets in the heartland have always been deranged by the quotidian. In any case, there’s a violence and fury in these songs that transcends their subject matter, as punk rock has always blasted its blighted points of origin—London in the 1970s, Manchester in the 1980s, Orange County in the 1990s — into surreal landscapes of alienation, rage and black humor.
DOWNLOAD: “Tarpeian Rock,” “Scum, Rise”