Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr

'Under Color of Official Right' was Detroit post-punks Protomartyr's breakthrough album. Defined by Joe Casey's preacher-like vocals, angular guitar sketches, raw bass and gothic drum clatters, the record drew acclaim from all corners of the alternative music press. Protomartyr would tighten up and expand their sound on the next two albums, but 'Under Color of Official Right' successfully showcases their punkier roots.

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Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr
4 reviews. Write a review for us »
9/10 ReviewBot3000 03 April 2014

This is the second album from Detroit's post-punky indie rockers Protomartyr and their first on Hardly Art. A few friends of mine have already been making excited noises about this so my expectations are high. On my first listen I was struck by how conventional it was, I think I was expecting something more strikingly weird given the rabid early reactions, but listening again I'm starting to warm to Under Cover of Official Right's charms.

The formula is pretty simple; one part post-grungey '90s indie a la Archers of Loaf and the Van Pelt, one part chiming no-wavey guitar noise that reminds me of Sonic Youth and Lift To Experience, one part brittle Joy Division post-punk, one part lairy late '80s Nick Cave vocals. It's not a million miles from what Fat White Family have been up to lately on this side of the pond. The songs are succinct and brittle and there's a lot of good guitar sounds.

Particularly impressive is the double shot of 'What The Wall Said' and 'Tarpeian Rock' right in the middle of the album. The former is a GBV-ish rock pop number with huge chiming walls of guitar that break out into bursts of impressive MBV-esque noise, while the latter mixes Dismemberment Plan rhythm section groove with Chris Leo vocal proclamations which turn into a flowing Nick Cave-ish diatribe over rhythmic backing vocals hollered and echoed in unsettling layers. 'Son of Dis' is another highlight, a galloping and shortlived number that's like a more unsettling Parquet Courts.

There are a few tracks here where they're really reminding me of Gallon Drunk too, that same snarling controlled violence within seemingly formulaic songs. 'Scum, Rise!' plays with dynamics very effectively, lurching between surfy twangs and huge chiming chords, eventually building to a gigantic chorus with once again some cleverly used backing vocals. My initial reservations at not hearing any new ideas has melted away. Like so many of the best bands, Protomartyr draw from the past magpie-like to make their own collage of the best bits of indie rock, and they do it with economy and subtlety and hunger in a way that is making me want to listen to this again a few times.

9/10 Ben Walker-Collins 15th January 2015

My second favourite album of 2014 (after that excellent Alvvays debut effort) and arguably the best new post-punk album since Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights. It's full of angst and bitterness that's perfect for a cynical such as myself, even the album title is based on the case surrounding the Detroit (their hometown) governor embroiled in a corruption scandal. Highlights include Maidenhead, Come & See and Want Remover. "His wife was telling night tales to their kids about city cats and country mice, and how the dogs in charge would eat their young" and then going on to describe how "the suburban rats would fall down and laugh" has all the charm of child-like imagery with all the loathing of a beer-soaked skeptic. It's social commentary at its most grimly poetic and the proverbial bang with which the album is completed, the final track being I'll Take That Applause, leaves me hoping for a lengthy encore in the new year.

10/10 Mike 11th September 2014

Under Color of Official Right is fucking great and has got better with each listen. Part Joy Division, part Pixies, but with a distinctive swagger and bite that (probably) only a band from Detroit could muster, Protomartyr have forged a path which isn't obviously original but is cut through with their own personality. Lyrically the album is gold - Joe Casey has a unique sense of grimy disconsolation which doesn't wallow in self-pity, but externalises the resentment of outsiderdom to a highly literate attack on the shallowness of the world (and himself). All the parts are excellent, a band firing on all cylinders - but the drummer's a master of tight, precise tattoo, a typical post-punk style but done to perfection in a way that's entirely natural - not just homage to their influences.

9/10 Justin P 17th March 2014

Miss this at your peril. Protomartyr (the MC4) are chock full of the snarl and venom that one would expect from a Detroit rock band. Early indications suggest that this will be a more emotional LP than the first (Think Closer versus Unknown Pleasures). The Fall were most folk's knee-jerk comparison on that first album, named No Passion, All Technique; the latest brings to mind Nick Cave at his more preacherly and guitars that remind me of Boston's The Turbines. Rumour is they tour here at the end of the summer. Something to look forward to as their live act looks impressive enough on video.



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