My latest column at PopMatters concerns the great band Protomartyr, from its first album to its latest, Relatives in Descent. Here’s an excerpt:
Relatives in Descent is, musically, a more contemplative and less full-throttle Protomartyr album than the three which precede it. I almost wrote “intellectual”, which in some circles — (some) punk, pop country, the Republican party — is an insult, but the thing with Protomartyr is that while its songs are thoughtful and smart, moments of knowledge and revelation are never presented as victories. They have no social effect, no obvious private effect.
Casey frequently refers to concepts, for instance. Places and names from antiquity. In “A Private Understanding”, the opener of Relatives in Descent, he compares himself to Heraclitus the Obscure, who wrote that a thing may stay what it is by changing. If you think this is just some smart-guy posturing, congratulations, you’re on the side that’s winning—and that’s the point. These are not even Pyrrhic victories. As much as these antique nuggets are metaphorical and narrative structures for Casey’s lyrics, the way he positions and sings them betrays that today they have no special meaning in the great contemporary soup of information even if they should happen to float to the top.