Protomartyr is a band anyone with a rock and roll backbone anyone can get behind. Formed by middle-aged music fans stewing in the ennui of working class Detroit, Protomartyr doesn’t hint towards being contrived or manicured to any degree. Rolling into their fourth album release, Relatives In Descent, the trademark Motor City grittiness can still be found but it’s the existentialism and questioning of truth that reaches a fever pitch. At a point where their music is has its largest audience ever, they are simultaneously writing their most thought-provoking music.
The first single, “A Private Understanding”, has a rollicking drum line with lead singer Joe Casey laying deadpan spoken word over it as anxious guitars flare in the background. The song suddenly erupts into a cathartic rock-out that tickles areas of the brain you didn’t know existed. The second single “My Children” has a foreboding intro that builds into Casey’s mantra “Pass on, take mine, pass on.” The song’s lyrics play on the irresponsibility of having children while the song turns into a catchy Clash-like song.
While 12 songs inhabit the album, there are rarely any drop-offs. “Here Is The Thing” has a haunting and spacey crescendo that burrows deep into your brain, while “The Chuckler” brings a high-tempo and hilarious track with a chorus of “I guess I’ll keep chuckling/Until there is no more breath in my lungs.”
“Corpses In Regalia” has an almost disco-pop streak, which might be considered uplifting if it wasn’t for the song title, the vocals, and nearly everything else about it. The album peaks on three distinctly different songs; “Catriona”, which is a beautifully written song that comes in under two minutes, “Don’t Go To Anacita” plays like your favorite 90’s punk band with a monstrous hook of a chorus, and “Night-Blooming Cereus”, a slow-building gothic track with a sensitivity unlike anything Protomartyr have written to date.
Complexity on Relatives In Descent is noticeably more intense but no less visceral than previous efforts. Each song leaves you wondering how to decipher the feelings, lyrics, and music applying to each situation – but that’s half the fun. In a world that is decidedly less stable, straightforward, and safe than it was when they released their last album back in 2015, Relatives In Descent nails the feeling of a fading reality, which is beautifully translated through twelve distinctive tracks.