THE AGENT INTELLECT by Protomartyr
Favorite Tracks: “The Devil in His Youth”, “Cowards Starve”, “Dope Cloud”, “Why Does It Shake?”
By the end of the 2000s, the hardcore punk scene that skate magazines were trying to sell had definitely run its course. Many bands in the Midwest played with little aggressive experimentation and either funneled themselves into the world of emo, generic alternative rock, or earned a “post-punk” label. This was especially apparent in the city of Detroit where many wished to distance themselves from an emergence of molly-fueled electronic movements. An absolutely dirty and down-on-their-luck punk act in the D, simply known as Butt Babies, became totally enraptured by the musical musings of one Joe Casey. He came to the table with two offerings: insight from an entirely different generation of music predating the band and vocals reminiscent of Nick Cave in his prime. As the group changed their name to Protomartyr, many fell in love with their sound, and their 2014 sophomore album UNDER COVER OF OFFICIAL RIGHT received widespread critical acclaim. Now with an early third effort, Protomartyr absolutely delivers on the promise to keep pumping out albums while they’re hot.
As always, we get a delightful combination of noisy instrumentation and Thatcher-era punk stylings that are more thought-out than the typical sounds from bands of the same vein, such as Iceage or Ought. Casey plays around with his voice to a generous degree. Memories of the ironic depravity of an American papal visit slowly come out of his melancholic drawl on “Pontiac 87,” while epic shouts of frustration in “Why Does It Shake?” warrant more than a few quivers of fear. The only caveat may be how much he indulges in repetition. For instance, on “The Hermit” it seems like the number of times Casey belts out, “They lie! They lie! They lie! They lie!” enters the triple-digit range, making the song more exasperating than fun. Thankfully, when Casey’s voice isn’t as expressive as it could be, Greg Ahee’s guitar is. There’s almost never a dull moment when Ahee is testing his limits and meeting Casey’s energy, exploring dark places alongside him. Because the album flows as a cohesive piece, most tracks provide a short burst of energy, but each has a unique personality all their own.
The instrumentation as a whole knows exactly when to be cold and unnerving or brutally fuzzy. Drummer Alex Leonard and bassist Scott Davidson get their time to shine and each take turns to keep the tracks alive. Leonard has some pretty impressive moody bits on percussion for “Clandestine Time,” and paired with guitar and bass that open up and stretch out at such ease, it is clearly evident that this is a band that has almost flawless chemistry and has perfected their sound. It’s an impressive feat to make each and every couple minutes on this release sound almost completely different from the last. Thankfully, the big throughline are the aforementioned vocals with a foreign, yet familiar flavor.
With THE AGENT INTELLECT, Protomartyr has hit a new threshold, having produced an album that hits at a deep level most all music fans seldom feel. Rarely can an album be both endearing and challenging or nostalgic while at the same time looking to new musical horizons. This is a step in the right direction for the post-punk scene and rock music in general.