Protomartyr aren't going to revolutionize guitar music. That's a big ask for any rock band in 2017, where many acts are hyper-literate, fiercely political or formally adventurous — though the group possesses all of these strengths.
With those lanes occupied, consistency is ultimately what sets Protomartyr apart from the pack. Their development has been steady, as each new album broadened the scope and lyrical ambition of its predecessor. Relatives in Descent is a culmination of the band's potential; they sound a career removed from the scrappy garage punks who released No Passion All Technique just four years ago, even as they remain snidely dissatisfied.
And why shouldn't they be? Protomartyr have always hit back at the ghastliness of late capitalism, and amid further turmoil, singer Joe Casey's blows have only gotten more direct. "Up the Tower" gives allegorical significance to its "marble emperor's" gaudiness and fixation with gold, but Casey doesn't settle for easy targets. Wolfish, braying boors populate opener "A Private Understanding," while "Don't Go to Anacita" contrasts "the straight white streets" of a gated town with the migrant workers and anti-vagrant systems that maintain it.
These condemnations feel especially ferocious with the full weight of the band behind them. "Male Plague" blisters with contempt for its mediocre subjects, while the ominous bass and low, rolling beats make the malaise of "Windsor Hum" feels inescapable. At its best, Relatives in Descent makes guitar music feel radical again, capturing both timely and timeless anxieties. (Domino)