Text by: Joe K./Live photo by: Kimberly Cecchini
“He’s not what I expected at all,” that’s what my boss over at Tonight at Dawn said to me when Protomartyr first hit the stage during the Seaport Music Festival in New York City. Singer Joe Casey, with his ‘business-casual’ attire, standing in between a guitarist (Greg Ahee) who would not seem out-of-place in Vampire Weekend, and a bassist (Scott Davidson) that looks like he could walk onstage with Red Fang, do not look like how they sound (Drummer Alex Leonard, however, has the perfect look for Protomartyr. Don’t change a thing!).
But once the band starts into “Maidenhead”, all the pieces look like they fit.
Cryptic lyrics can be the sign of a true artist or bland imitation of good “art”. On the bands newest album, Under Color of Official Right, Protomartyr’s straightforward, simplistic guitar riff and drumming offer the perfect canvas for Casey’s baritone vocals and metaphoric lyrics. After listening to this album countless times, I still had a hard time figuring out what the hell he’s talking about on occasion….but I knew I liked it.
Once I started putting the pieces together, though, the pictures became clear. Songs like “Tarpiean Rock” on the surface sound nothing more than less-than-positive ways to describe humans strung together (e.g. greedy bastards, emotional cripples). After learning that Tarpiean Rock is actually an ancient Roman execution site (thanks, Wikipedia!!), suddenly lines like “Let them be shocked, by gravity, then the ground” and repeating “Throw them from the rock!” made sense. The History major in me likes this little ditty.
Other songs are much more to the point. In “Violent”, Casey frankly speaks to our more savage tendencies, “Cause if it’s violent, it’s understood”. “Overconfidence is a parasite” is one of my personal favorites from “bad advice” and it is also a less than positive commentary on Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Joe Casey’s ability to go from singing to forcefully barking out his words takes the tracks to another level. (It also justifies the choice of an angry barking dog for an album cover) These distinct low vocals contribute to his bandmates’ gritty sound. Although a little more polished than its predecessor, No Passion, All Technique, Under Color of Official Right is still far from the average pop punk record.
Musically, the band is all hit, no miss. It may not sound like the most challenging music possible, yet it is extremely well-played and perfectly fits the lyrics’ tone. There’s plenty of fuzz engulfing these garage rock songs. At 35 minutes, there’s no meandering to be found on any of these songs, which plays to the band’s strengths. Each track hits me hard and fast, and leave me with something to think about. Closing track ” I’ll take that applause” couldn’t be a more fitting end statement. As Casey boasts “And I’ll take that applause, cause I deserve it”, who could really argue with him?