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Protomartyr Open a Can of Post-Punk, Whoop-Ass on ‘Under Color of Official Right’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Label: Hardly Art

Joe Casey may have a bit of an anger problem. On “I Stare At Floors,” one of the standout songs from his band Protomartyr‘s second album, Under Color Of Official Right, he wonders aloud, “Why don’t they die?” about the sort of smooth talkers who don’t share his problem when it comes to eye contact. On the anthemic “Scum, Rise!” he declares, “Pound them all/ Dead hippie squadron.” There’s also a song named “Violent.”

It’s only intermittently clear what he’s so upset about, but that’s probably because the answer is probably everything, and most of all himself. “I Stare At Floors” ends with Casey declaring, “It’s a social disease/ And now I’m free”; “Scum, Rise!” finds him chanting, “Nothing you can do.” Under Color Of Official Right seesaws between release and apathy. Casey is frustrated by the inanity of the world, and he’s frustrated that he has no better recourse than to be frustrated. As much as he might pile on to “Gluten facists/ Alt-weekly types” and “smug urban settlers” in “Tarpeian Rock,” his rancorous, usually hilarious words never seem to merit much beyond a weary deadpan from their author; as annoyed as this wretched world might make him, it’s clear that he knows that he’s already lost the battle by getting upset in the first place. This touch of self-awareness goes a long way toward preventing Protomartyr from sounding like a series of cantankerous Yelp reviews scored by the Touch & Go catalog.

Ranting is a time-honored tradition in rock and roll. For the ranter, pipes and melodic facility are less important than a keen bullshit detector and a sense of which moves to cop. In this instance, that usually means Pavement, Fugazi and just enough Hüsker Dü to give the guitars a bit of melodic sunshine. Under Color Of Official Right rumbles along with tense basslines and drums that feel like they’re trying to stay out of Casey’s way, as guitarist Greg Ahee slashes a path forward. Thirty-five minutes of Casey’s sardonic recriminations feels like a bit much, but he stumbles onto a few melodic gems here, none more so than “Ain’t So Simple,” which finds him promising lead pipe violence before the guitar solo renders all verbal threats superfluous. This might not be the healthiest way to deal with one’s feelings, but it’s probably a lot more fun than anger management classes.