Anna Cieslik ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
Protomartyr is a decidedly post-Internet era punk band. Seemingly made for Generation Y and its inherent apathy, the band’s new album, Under Color of Official Light, doesn’t scream and thrash in your face like original punk kingpins Black Flag or Rise Against. Instead, the album is grounded in unambiguously punk lyrics fit into nuanced melodies. Protomartyr takes punk and combines it with aspects of other rock subgenres, creating something of a Tumblr-born Frankenstein monster that is equal parts sonically jarring and unrelentingly stunning.
Protomartyr doesn’t hold back when it comes to being the band they want to be and making the music they want to make, which is a welcome relief in a scene where it seems most bands are stuck in a bygone era. The short, to-the-point songs on Under Color of Official Light offer a candid look into current day Detroit, where the band calls home. This isn’t the hopeful yet still dangerous Detroit we see on CNN, nor is it the Detroit of drug dealers and criminals we so often see in rap songs. No, this is a completely sincere portrayal of the Motor City that is mostly sad and decrepit, but still home nonetheless.
In “Tarpeian Rock,” the song dissolves into a description of all the different kinds of people lead singer Joe Casey finds in his city. Ranging from “greedy bastards” to “smug urban settlers” and “terrible bartenders,” Detroit blossoms into this complexly warped flower (or is it a weed?) of sorts. We’re given what is possibly the most absolute and well-rounded description of everything terrible that exists in Detroit, yet Casey still sees something in the city and we as the listeners can’t help but see that certain special spark in the Motor City as well.
But the lyrics aren’t the only part of Under Color of Official Light that seem to draw direct inspiration from Detroit. Perhaps the album’s strongest quality is its instrumentals, which elevate the band from just another 90s-era punk band regurgitation to a post-punk juggernaut. The melodies on the album have a certain subtleness to them. It’s like a slowed down, Midwest answer to the aggressiveness of LA punk rock. The rhythmic, pulsing guitar parts and stripped down drums evoke an image of Detroit’s abandoned buildings blanketed in snow, forgotten and more than a little forlorn. This isn’t the punk rock your parents listened to – this is a new generation of punk grounded in neglect and abandonment rather than pure angst and anger.
Protomartyr’s Under Color of Official Light comes out March 8 on Hardly Art, but you can check out two of the band’s singles from the album right now on their SoundCloud page. And if you’re into the band’s brooding, heavyhearted post-punk sound, then make sure to check them out when the come to Boston on April 11 at The Democracy Center in Cambridge.