sat 11/07/2020

Album: Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today

Album: Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today

Another last stand from Detroit post-punk underdogs, facing defeat with thrilling defiance

Joe Casey is the final refugee from the Detroit garage-rock scene which spawned The White Stripes. He has led this otherwise young band for five albums now, every one of which feels like an indignant last stand. Feeling under the baleful influence of unspecified, pre-Covid sickness, and unsure if the source lay in his body or an increasingly depressing world, he conceived this record as a raging epitaph, “last words...while I still had breath to say them”.

Esoterically original post-punk soundscapes are meanwhile marshalled by guitarist Greg Ahee. “I Am You Now”, haunted by doppelgangers and sundered identities, starts with a Stooges jolt, followed by a bass groove overshadowed by clouds of fuzzed electricity. “Save your tears for the show,” Casey snaps. Droning ambience shifts underfoot like quicksand on “June 21”, as Ahee stalk towards a plague-pit buzz of demonic flies.

“Michigan Hammers” is clamorous Midwest motorik of thrilling speed and power. Refugees are thrown overboard in its verses, some clamber to shore. “The Aphorist” is a gently sung litany for strangers who keep turning up dead, from zombie lawyers to a “happy thief” who “provided content for that ceaseless chill-out stream”. “Self-doubt” assails Casey like a virus he can’t shake off. Where this album lives, “narcissism is a killer/like no healthcare.”

Elsewhere, you hear ghosts of Mark E. Smith at his most intransigent and focused, and New Order’s gleaming pop from urban ruins. “Modern Business Hymns” is an anthem for the post-industrial fallen which marshals evidence of defeat as a form of defiance. It still finds room for the soulful balm of jazz brass, like a taste of heaven in this brutal world.

Protomartyr were a long shot gamble from the start, a collision of generations in a city where rock had gone back underground since Jack White stalked into exile a decade before. And yet here they still are, finding beauty in the rubble, resilience in crushing depression. Like their ravaged hometown, they seem somehow invincible. During the gorgeous finale, “Worm In Heaven”, which sounds like Bowie from the bass-line up, “Heroes” for a new time of walls and fears, Casey suggests you “keep a knife in your purse”, but makes a peaceful mark. This is a band to rise up with, humble music that inspires pride.

An anthem for the post-industrial fallen which marshals evidence of defeat as a form of defiance

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