in Review

Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

Let’s talk about the darkness.  No, not the band The Darkness (thought it is interesting just how irrelevant that band seems now, considering even at their peak they were embodying a kind of rock n’ roll that had been irrelevant for over a decade).  I’m talking more about the kind of darkness that lies in the hearts of all men, and by extension lies at the heart of a band like Protomartyr, who released their second album in as many years about a month ago, which has been growing on me at a pretty rapid pace.  Historically, I’ve found that artists that embrace darkness don’t usually do much for me, as I’ve still never really gotten into Joy Division though I’ve tried so many god damn times, while supposed geniuses like Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen just seem alright to me I guess.  This Detroit band however, has a scrappiness and a kind of everyman anxiety that’s easy to rock out to, but also makes wallowing in darkness seem kind of fun (or as fun as you could expect wallowing in darkness to be).

I was hoping I could make it to at least the third paragraph before comparing Protomartyr to The National (because they really don’t sound that much like The National), but I feel like I have to do it.  Maybe blame it on the fact that one of my first introductions to the band was seeing a video of Protomartyr’s performance at this year’s Pitchfork musical festival, where singer Joe Casey was sporting a three-piece suit while bellowing into a microphone, not unlike a more unkempt version of The National’s Matt Berninger.  So because of that I’ve had a hard time looking at Protomartyr as anything other than a “garage rock National”, even if that seems like it’s short-changing a band as great as this one.  Though at the same time, I can’t imagine I’d be as receptive to Protomartyr if it wasn’t for my undying National fandom, as they’re really the only band I’ve managed to love who also embrace the kind of typically unwanted darkness I was describing earlier.

But unlike The National, more often than not Protomartyr will let ‘er rip.  Alex Leonard is a particularly great drummer for this kind of band, because he’ll use the whole drumkit in intricate and ferocious ways that fill in the gaps of whatever chiming dissonance the guitars will be laying down, in true post-punk fashion.  Casey, on the other hand comes off as a kind of wonderfully drunken poet, spouting off random ideas about good and evil while being perfectly in time with the band one minute, and going off the rails at the other.  And the fact of the matter is, he sounds like could go off the rails as much as he possibly wants, since this band (which has been playing together since 2008) are clearly a tight-knit and well-oiled machine — a machine built to fight off the darkness, but while also realizing that sometimes the darkness can be your greatest ally.

Favorite Tracks: “The Devil In His Youth”, “Cowards Starve”, “Dope Cloud”