Review Summary: The album you missed in 2014.
The opening track of Protomartyr's sophomore album, Under Color of Official Right
, is the sort that immediately conjures up comparison; to Joy Division perhaps most obviously, but the gloomy mid-tempo atmosphere and moaning baritone vocals of “Maidenhead” reek of classic post-punk in every sense. It's not a bad thing by any means; the song is a good one and the familiarity warm, but one would be forgiven for thereby making the assumption that this album is less than it really is. In truth, despite flying just below the radar of most when it was released in 2014, Under Color of Official Right
is a surprisingly unique and interesting piece of music, and definitely one worth revisiting.
As mentioned, the album does share a lot of it's key elements with the typical post-punk band; the atmosphere consistently gloomy, the vocals groaning and understated, the production raw and unpolished. But Protomartyr stand out in their ability to use this foundation as a platform onto which they can stamp their own identity, and it is this that makes Under Color of Official Right
really interesting. The songs have a penchant to explode from their gloomy atmospherics into distorted, angst-fuelled punk rock monsters, or in some cases do away with the quieter sections altogether, as in tracks such as the furious “Tarpeian Rock,” in which Casey spends a great deal of time listing people he feels are worthy to be thrown from the sacrificial Roman cliff. Social commentary is a key feature of this album's lyrical identity, particularly the Detroit area from which Protomartyr hail. Casey clearly has a lot to say about the state of the city – he attacks corrupt mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in “Bad Advice,” laments on the subject of crime and violence in the aptly-named “Violent” (“If it's violent/It's understood”) and sneers “Haven't you heard the bad news"/We've been saved by both coasts” on lead single “Come and See.” Such lyrics prove a consistent highlight throughout the album.
Returning to lead single “Come and See,” it is a perfect example of the final piece of Protomartyr's identity; between the gloomy post-punk atmosphere and explosive punk rock influence, there is a real great knack for melody on display here. On repeated listens it can be heard seeping into nearly all songs, but never does it stand out more than in the album's more reserved moments, such as the utterly infectious, sighing hook of this single, the slowly evolving vocals of “What the Wall Said” or the rolling guitar melody of “Maidenhead.”
Under Color of Official Right
concludes it's story of textured guitars, biting social commentary and determined, rolling rhythms with the upbeat rock of “I'll Take That Applause;” the song exudes a well-earned confidence, for although Protomartyr may not yet be doing anything particularly ground-shaking, and the album may sometimes fit a little too snugly into the generic post-punk mould, what they have made here is a piece of interesting and well-executed music that shows a band assured in their own identity and beginning to act upon their newly-realized potential.