Track Review: Protomartyr – A Private Understanding

By Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)

In the years since George Orwell penned his pre-eminent novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, arguably 2017 comes closer than any to realising some of its predictions. With double-think, alternative facts and fake news aplenty, this year has been crying out for some sort of explanation – and Protomartyr might just have provided one. Their latest single, A Private Understanding, has dropped alongside a full track-list of their much-anticipated fourth album Relatives in Descent and a myriad of tour dates. Check out the music video below featuring vocalist Joe Casey’s lifelong friend Marty Smith, a Detroit-based stand up comic who appears to be preaching Casey’s lines to anyone who’ll listen.

The band have suggested their latest album will deal with truth and the great no-mans land surrounding it, with their enigmatic anti-frontman Casey aptly commenting that the entire concept of truth is being eroded and, “people have never been more skeptical, and there’s no shared reality.” A Private Understanding, the opening track and first single off the new album, tackles this subject matter with ruminations about wealth and influence.

Joe Casey’s characteristic blend of literary references, acerbic wit and dry humour is deployed to great effect here as he criticises the exaltation of ‘strongmen’ in society with lines such as “The scholar will be forever poor / Gross gold runs headlong to boor“, while simultaneously harking back to ancient scholarly figures to understand our notion for change, “Call me “Heraclitus The Obscure” / Constantly weeping because the river doesn’t move“. The second verse looks at the hazy nature of truth through the bizarre (although supposedly true) story of Elvis Presley witnessing an apparition of Joseph Stalin in a cloud mass; take from that what you will. Throughout the song, it appears the band have ditched guitarist and lead songwriter Greg Ahee’s veto on acoustic guitars – the group have instead turned their contempt towards “vile trumpets“, perhaps in reference to certain world leaders intent on projecting themselves louder than any other.

Protomartyr have lost none of their ability to create tension and dissonance which resolves into punchy, upbeat choruses and Ahee’s songwriting remains as compelling as ever. Propelled forward by Alex Leonard’s adventurous drumming and Scott Davidson’s driving bass, the song begins on anxious, trepid footing but emerges far more confident for all its travails with an outro which is, quite simply, stunning. Listeners would be hard-pressed to find a better use for the paltry £10 it costs to see this band live.

9/10


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