The relentless, shapeless gloom can get a bit much.
Released: 29th September 2017
In these troubled times, ‘In these troubled times…’ has become a reviewing crutch almost as wearying as the act of switching the news on – or swiping down to refresh – itself: what fresh hell awaits? Music is expected to be a comforting balm, a joyous distraction, or to confront the encroaching horrors with righteous vitriol, often all at the same time.
Now Detroit’s Protomartyr wade in, following 2015’s well-received ‘The Agent Intellect’ with a fourth LP, tackling the fake news age and universal skepticism. “There’s no shared reality,” ponders singer Joe Casey. “Maybe there never was.” But rather than hitting it head-on, ‘Relatives In Descent’ prefers poetry to punches, abstracts to anger; a postpunk fog to passion and fury.
This works well in places – the stumbling, stuttering discord of the opening ‘A Private Understanding’, steadily building to a thundering chorus; ‘My Children’’s bruising melody; or ‘Here Is The Thing’ – like The Fall meets, well, The Fall, down to Casey’s occasional Mark E. Smith-ian -ahs at the ends of lines – but the relentless, shapeless gloom can get a bit much.
‘The Chuckler’ seems to recognise this, sarcastically suggesting “I guess I’ll keep on chuckling/till there’s no more breath in my lungs”, but there’s little to recommend the dreary likes of ‘Windsor Hum’ or ‘Up The Tower’, where a nicely gathering tension leads to an exercise in making nothing out of something.
Only ‘Male Plague’ and ‘Night Blooming Cereus’ buck the trends, the first reading like a fairly direct swipe at toxic masculinity, and the second – “Only in darkness does the flower take hold/It blooms at night” – finding occasional patches of colour, and hope, amid darkness. We could do with a few more – both here, and in these troubled times. Rob Mesure