Review Summary: The tap calls the time.
Losing your parents is one of the hardest things to face in life. How well you manage to deal with such a tragic yet inevitable event and the emotional consequences is quite a daunting task. Same goes for finding a way to keep depression at bay, in order to recalibrate yourself sooner than later. In the end, everything should be reduced to remembering the beautiful memories, not the loss itself. This was in a nutshell Joe Casey’s healing process after his mother passed, therefore putting all these sentiments into Protomartyr’s latest collection of songs that make up Formal Growth in the Desert
. For the cynical in him, this meant venturing outside his comfort zone to find the much-needed peace of mind and love again. This way, several tracks share steps of this journey while necessarily portraying the hardships faced throughout. Casey’s down to earth approach makes it seem easier and more logical than it is, really. Despite bearing a heavy, personal load, the LP doesn’t weigh much on you on a casual listen.
Musically, Formal Growth in the Desert
is considerably more immediate than its predecessor, Ultimate Success Today
. There is a fine blend of post-punk and goth-Americana, as the band recorded in Texas and included lap steel guitar too. It is not a lead instrument in the mix though, being used mainly for added background textures. Guitar player Greg Ahee diversified his output over the years and here he included multiple western soundtrack-type touches. The twang and reverb are a large part of the charming guitar work. Tracks such as the poignant “Elimination Dances”, the moody “Graft vs. Host” or the explosive “We Know the Rats” jump from sharp, cinematic leads to distorted bursts. The former is one of the highlights, the drum patterns becoming highly mesmerizing, whereas Casey details notions about loss and insignificance in the grand scheme of things. “Graft vs. Host” is perhaps the most touching number, since it directly discusses his mother’s death over a darker, melancholic sonic background. The front man finally pushes his anger away on the noisy “The Author” and accepts fate, so he can move on with life on the closing “Rain Garden”. The latter starts with a punishing rhythm before breaking into a meandering, mid-tempo segment. Ominous layers of echoed synths and lap steels build up around the vocals, unleashing one final release alongside some of the most personal lyrics Joe penned yet.
Alas, not all the record focuses on the departure of loved ones. The other half of it retreats to familiar sounds and subjects of social and political nature. “For Tomorrow” offers the muscle early albums boasted. The driving groove and shouts are classic Protomartyr. Same goes for “3800 Tigers” with its rock and roll swing, the punchy “Fulfillment Center” or the stomping “Polacrilex Kid”. These are nicely interspersed with the introspective cuts, providing improved dynamics overall. Every member audibly leveled up with each LP and Formal Growth in the Desert
again takes it up a notch. There are bits of everything the quartet crafted so far and more, all incorporated into a cohesive and intense narrative. As the instrumentals become more evocative, so does the storytelling.