Autobiographical Order No. 482: Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

Writing about music for as long as I have has shown me how frustrating and illogical press cycles can be when covering music. There are some folks who tend to think of writing about music in any fashion as being illogical (the old “dancing about architecture” quote), but it’s a craft in and of itself. I hesitate to say art, but that is at least partially true. Good music writing exists for its own sake—not to serve as a consumer guide—and the best of it makes you think about or hear music in a different way, rather than simply deciding whether or not to buy something, which is a fairly uninteresting and, well, capitalist-driven reason to do things. Good writing about music isn’t about the decision to spend money but rather how you engage with art.

All of which is to say: Even the best outlets sometimes can’t escape hype cycles. What’s new is always going to be at the heart of music coverage to a degree—with the largest outlets, like Pitchfork, what’s new always seems to be the most important thing. At one point that might have been true with Rolling Stone as well, but it hasn’t been for a long time. (Though they’ve had a lot of good writing in recent years, so credit where it’s due.)

But the most interesting bands and artists aren’t always the ones that are the newest or buzziest. Most of my favorite groups took a while to reach their peak, and many of them have remained there for many years, despite the initial buzz wearing off. Protomartyr is one of those bands. A Detroit post-punk group that started out garagey and got more inventive and darker since then, Protomartyr is a band that’s been on a hot streak for six years or so (I expect their new one to continue that streak, personally), and The Agent Intellect was released right after that was really starting to bear fruit.

The follow-up to Under Color of Official Right (also a great album), The Agent Intellect is a more personal album that deals with frontman Joe Casey’s family history. It’s a much sadder album, though the music is some of their most thrilling. “Clandestine Time” is one of my favorites, a kind of shoegazier take on a Joy Division-like post-punk sound, and “Why Does It Shake?” is murky and menacing. Every corner of the record feels pretty bleak to some degree, but the music keeps it from ever being too dour or depressing, even if there’s a lot of personal anguish in there.

It’s a spectacular album, even if I don’t have a particular memory attached to it. Though a year later I spoke to Casey for a few minutes outside Soda Bar when they happened to be playing there—the day after Trump was elected. That was a very strange night, because everyone was depressed, the room definitely wasn’t full, and when it came up in conversation there was a lot of “fuck…” and “Jesus Christ…”—the general sense that we all were in agreement in thinking “What the hell just happened?” and the despair of knowing, well, that what happened in the past four years is absolutely what was going to happen. Nice guy though, very pleasant (Casey, not Trump—he sucks). And you’d be surprised how good music like this feels when nothing else does.

Rating: 9.1

Sound Quality: Great

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