Formal Growth in the Desert
Domino Records (2023)
Review by Alex Scherger
The curtains part, and we’re introduced to the ghost town remains of a spaghetti-western setting left in squalor from a late-stage capitalism apocalypse. Then the drums and chorus thunder in while Protomartyr vocalist Joe Casey urges us onwards charismatically. He recounts some of the conditions getting us to where we currently sit, as if meeting around a rustic campfire planning for tomorrow’s rebuild: a ravenous ruling force versus an ambivalent hyper-individualistic prey.
We are then taken into the commencement of a dancing gallop (“For Tomorrow”) where the narrator pines for hope among difficult living conditions like we currently experience, where food and rent are beyond affordable for many. Cost of living becomes an ominous phrase in itself, and the toll on personal psyche is referenced (“tiredness kills much more than they let on” and “saw me down in a rented room, looking for the will to live, in this fair city”).
There’s more than despair, however, on the Michigan leftist post-punks’ sixth full-length record. They continue with a new catalogue of their signature socialist themes – survival under the American Dream, artists being paid for their work, and adapting with changes over time – while adding some varying percussion patterns and swelling guitars to shine a spotlight on Casey’s prowess as a raconteur and lyricist. The band’s rhythm section performs their hallmark rolling guitars and crashing percussion with steadiness and purpose that encourages the listener onward.
Wedged between some tracks of loss and love, triumph and failure, sits a powerful anthem. “We Know the Rats” leaves us with an identified adversary to our struggle while keeping them shrouded in anonymity. An excellent crescendo of a track leading to a final passage pleading (in a more reassuring than cynical manner) in typical Protomartyr spoken vocals, “so collect those tears, and wash your face, the house is empty, but the work remains.”
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