By Jamie McNamara
Let’s get this out of the way: No, Relatives in Descent is not Protomartyr’s Donald Trump record. For a band that is known for having their fingers on the political pulse of a fractured America, it would seem an easy topic to tackle for their fourth LP. Luckily, the Detroit post-punk quartet are a smarter band than that, opting for an album that feels no less political than their past work, without getting caught up in a laser-focused look at our societal race to the bottom.
Instead, Relatives in Descent plays like a 12-part anthology documenting the wide-reaching effect poisonous politics can have on society. It’s an incredibly dense, but entirely vital listen that feels like a quintessential 2017 album, complete with all the existential angst and turmoil that come with our distinctly modern political landscape.
In interviews leading up to the release of Relatives in Descent, frontman Joe Casey talks about his attempts to move away from the doom and gloom that marks most of Protomartyr’s discography, only to be dragged back by “happenings both local (the ongoing, man-made tragedy of the Flint water crisis) and national (just about everything).”
Relatives in Descent is often doom and gloom, but it seems that some of the beauty that Casey envisioned survived the darkness, resulting in some of Protomartyr’s most affecting, and often downright catchy, work yet. On songs like “The Chuckler” and “Night-Blooming Cereus” the band achieves Casey’s original goal to step away from dread with melodic shades of pink and purple.
Still, it’s the heaviest moments on the album where the band shines the brightest. “Up The Tower” reads like “Battleship Potemkin” set inside of Trump Tower, as the masses break down an unnamed CEO’s golden door lead by chants of “Throw him out, throw him out, throw him out.” Like most of the album, it’s anchored by guitarist Greg Ahee’s razor-sharp fuzz tones while Scott Davidson and Alex Leonard lock down a ferocious rhythm section.
It’s a testament to Joe Casey’s lyrical abilities that throughout the cacophonous charge of Protomartyr’s musical core his insights still take centre stage. Take for instance “Half-Sister,” the album’s final track that seems to tie all of the albums disparate themes (truth, familial strife, capitalism) with a neat bow: “In ancient Palestine a Roman middle manager dresses down a radical / ‘I have a backlog of so-called prophets / You are of a multitude’ / The offender said, ‘I witness truth’ / Perplexed and filled with pique the jailer replied, ‘truth, what is it?’
Overall, Relatives in Descent is the best Protomartyr album yet; a rewarding, intertextually dense album that reveals itself more with each listen.Protomartyr, Record Review, Relatives in Descent