Tag Archives: Protomartyr

The Best Albums of 2017: #40 – #21

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We’ll be revealing the full list, 20 albums at a time, this whole week.

Last year, the Bandcamp Daily staff put together our first “Best Albums of the Year List,” 100 albums we felt defined 2016 for us. At the time I remember thinking, “This is tough, but it will probably get easier as the years go on.” Now, one year later, I’m realizing that I was wrong. The truth is, the world of Bandcamp is enormous, and it contains artists from all over the world, in every conceivable genre (including a few who exist in genres of their own invention), and at every stage of their career. The fact of the matter is, any list like this is going to fall short because, on Bandcamp, there is always more to discover. Right now, there’s probably someone in their bedroom in Buenos Aires, making a record on their computer that is going to end up on next year’s list. So as comprehensive as we’ve tried to make this list, we realize that, even at 100 albums, we’re only scratching the surface of what’s available. The albums that made this list, though, were the ones that stayed with us long after they were released—the ones we returned to again and again and found their pleasures undimmed, and their songs still rewarding.

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The Best Albums of Summer 2017

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Every three months, the Bandcamp Daily editorial staff combs through the stacks to present our favorite records of the year to date. The albums presented here run the stylistic spectrum, everything from noise to indiepop to hip-hop to everything in between. And if you like what you see here, check out our picks for winter and spring of 2017, too.

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Album of the Day: Protomartyr, “Relatives in Descent”

On their first two albums, Protomartyr turned a jaundiced eye toward their immediate surroundings, documenting nasty displays of violence—both interpersonal and systemic—that cropped up throughout their home city of Detroit. On their third album, The Agent Intellect, they expanded their scope, trying to dig up the roots of that violence in religion, philosophy, and biology. On Relatives in Descent, their focus has become even more diffuse.

Early in the haunting opener “A Private Understanding,” frontman and lyricist Joe Casey declares: “Not by my own hand / Automatic writing by phantom limb,” and much of Descent seems to follow that M.O. Gone are the “hawks ripping out liars’ eyes” and “dogs eating their young.” In its place is language that’s looser and even more stream-of-consciousness. The grinding “Here is the Thing” feels like a bleak MadLib of contemporary catastrophes, Casey itemizing, “New face loves surveillance, comic sans, parroting an ape” as the band kicks and grunts behind him. On the tumbling “The Chuckler” Casey balefully sings, “War and rumors of war / Clouds of poison in the sky and poison in the soil,” before delivering the kicker: “Lord, how I wish there was a better ending to this joke.” The pensive “Up the Tower” condenses the album’s entire thematic thrust into one microcosm: it begins with Casey sharing a cigarette with a man on a corner, but as the song goes on, the lens widens: Protesters burst through police blockades and storm a mansion until they reach “the golden door”—the entire song shifting from the personal to the political to, arguably, the theological in the space of 90 seconds.

Throughout Descent, the band scales outward to match the lyrics’ wide grasp. On their first two albums, they felt feral and unglued, but on Intellect they began softening the edges of their sound. They continue that expansion on Descent to spectacular effect. The opening of “My Children” is chilling in its spareness, just a few icicle-like guitars from Greg Ahee dripping slowly in the background as bassist Scott Davidson and drummer Alex Leonard stalk the song’s edges. Even when it gains speed, it still feels open and harrowing, Ahee preferring bent-wire post-punk leads over brick-like riffing. “Night-Blooming Cereus” is the closest thing to a ballad the band has written yet, floating along on an eerily-serene synth line, Ahee’s guitar appearing only in lightning-flashes. Casey has grown exponentially as a vocalist in the short five years since No Passion All Technique; for much of Descent, he adopts a kind of weather-beaten croon, all the better to serve the band’s increasing fondness for empty spaces.

If Protomartyr have a clear antecedent, it’s The Fall, another band who paired knotty guitar work with declamatory vocals and lyrics that are, by turn, cutting and obscure. But where The Fall seemed content to submerge themselves in the acid of cynicism, Protomartyr have always looked for opportunities to come up for air. At the end of “The Chuckler,” Casey seeks solace in a phone call with “A direct-marketer from Bangalore.” They talk about life and the weather and the fact that the person on the other end of the phone shares a name with a friend of Casey’s. It’s a small detail, but on an album preoccupied with global ruin, it also offers a few seconds of hope. Even now, in an age lit by burning cities, surviving on polluted water and expired food, human connection—even between a rock singer and a customer service representative—is still possible. All you have to do is want it badly enough.

J. Edward Keyes

Listen to the Death by Audio Live Compilation in Full

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Ty Segall. Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Independent show spaces open and close across the country almost every month, but the shuttering of the Brooklyn venue Death by Audio in 2014 was a particularly painful sting. This is largely because the venue didn’t lose its lease to luxury condos or corporate chain stores, but to VICE, a publication that had, on its surface, long attempted to align itself with counterculture and the underground. A film about the venue’s final days, Goodnight Brooklyn, depicts VICE as tyrants and mercenaries, consistently making the venue uninhabitable in order to drive the founders out before the agreed-upon end date. The whole situation felt bitterly ironic: a large corporation that prided itself on a sense of cool actively working to unseat a venue that was, to many, the epitome of punk counterculture.

Two years later, the venue’s legacy still looms large. The triple-LP compilation Start Your Own Fucking Show Space, which we’re premiering today in full, collects notable performances from the venue’s final days, and comes packaged in a gatefold sleeve that unfolds to replicate Death by Audio’s interior, right down to the custom murals by local artists on the stage and walls. (The center panel is a picture of the stage, the left panel is the left wall, and the right panel is the right wall; if you raise the sleeve to your head, it feels like you’re standing in the space.)

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