Over the last fifteen years there have been many bands to emerge that wore the post-punk moniker proudly. That’s not to say they deserved to wear that moniker, mind you. That’s also not say they picked that moniker out themselves. It seems music critics(I’m not one as I don’t get invited to their soirees, nor do I care what’s cool or hip) can be sort of lazy in their name-calling. The National, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Art Brut, and a few more have been given the title of “post-punk band” over the years, and while each of those bands have put out great albums at one point or another in their careers they’ve proven to not be what we music nerds know as “post-punk”. Mission Of Burma, The Fall, Wire, Gang of Four, early Talking Heads, Joy Division, Television(to some degree), and early Cure were what I consider classic post-punk.
However, there have been a handful of bands to rise from the ashes of those post-punk yesteryears that possess that jagged spirit of post-punk. Iceage is one of them. Viet Cong is another. The newest, to my ears anyways, is Detroit’s Protomartyr. Protomartyr have that perfect balance of bloodied and bruised angst while underneath it all there’s a bit of doomed romanticism. That’s the recipe for not just great post-punk, but a great band. The Agent Intellect is Protomartyr’s new album. It seems pissed off at the world and then some. It’s also an intellectually aural beating. The best kind of beating, really.
Joe Casey’s voice is the Greek Chorus of Protomartyr. He’s the voice in your head telling you what you don’t want to conceptualize with your own words. In “The Devil In His Youth” Casey sings “Before recorded time/In some suburban room, see/The devil in his youth/He grew up very healthy/With the blessings of his father/The devil in his youth”, telling the tale of societies evils being born not in a childhood of violence and abuse, but of suburban bliss and seemingly parental love. Casey delivers these words like a drunken carnival barker. “Cowards Starve” has the push of Mission of Burma and the smirk of Mark E. Smith behind it. “Pontiac 87” is a dreamier trip from these Detroit guys as Casey talks about seeing the Pope in 1987 as a kid and the hopeless feeling it left him with. You really do get the feeling of burnt out buildings and steely gray horizons as the Detroit River seeps into Lake St. Clair and Lake Eerie.
Protomartyr never get stale or lose the buzz of tension. “Dope Cloud” is about as catchy as they get, and it’s pretty damn catchy. It’s a weird little tune that goes from this quirky guitar riff into Casey singing “It’s not gonna save you, man”. “The Hermit” buzzes with anxiety, while “Clandestine Time” is this uneasy breeze of Bauhaus and Casey’s vocals hint at a slightly mad Matt Berninger. This is the genius of Protomartyr; balancing melancholy, anger, and madness so beautifully. “Why Does It Shake” seethes and spits with clenched fist indignation. The album ends on the one-two slap in the face of “Ellen” and “Feast of Stephen”. With both of these the angst seems to subside and we get an introspective vibe. “Ellen” is over six minutes of almost early R.E.M. jangle and breeze, while “Feast of Stephen” is a melancholy ode St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, or Protomartyr. Or maybe it’s about something completely different.
Regardless, the song makes me sad and I love it.
Maybe I went on too long about what post-punk is. I don’t know. I will say this, Protomartyr’s The Agent Intellect is a hell of an album. It makes me excited about music again, much like Viet Cong(or whatever they’re called now) did earlier this year. If you think you know what post-punk is, then you need to get this album. Savor it. Then play it again. Repeat.
And you are quite right – the ‘pot-punk’ label became a bit of a catch all tag and has been highly misused over the years. Bit like the ‘psych’ label is at the moment .
Yes. I think “psych” has lost its meaning. Sad, really.