Protomartyr, Grave Babies, Unnatural Helpers at Black Lodge, Seattle | 20 May 2014
Detroit post punks Protomartyr played the Black Lodge in Seattle Tuesday night. This was their third time in Seattle, but only the first time I had the pleasure of seeing them. After sold out singles and the band’s debut album No Passion All Technique selling out of multiple pressings on Urinal Cake records, the band have followed it up with Under Color of Official Right on Hardly Art. Where Techniques was a lo-fi punk record, the new record keeps the punk attitude and intelligence while adding in better songs and better sound.
Label mates and localites Unnatural Helpers and Grave Babies began the evening’s intensities with two quality if workman-like sets. When the time came for Protomartyr, there was no big entrance or formality for the band, they merely stopped setting up and started rocking. No pomp, no circumstance, just the goods. In Protomartyr’s case the goods are frontman Joe Casey barking over his very good band. The solid rhythm section (besides being really good, drummer Alex Leonard was wearing a Spray Paint shirt) laid down the law which left Casey and guitarist Greg Ahee to fill in the picture with their riffs and rants.
Protomartyr write gutter anthems. They write about the underbelly of society and coming from Detroit they have first hand knowledge of the downtrodden. Detroit and Detroit rock is in their veins. They employ the abrasive qualities of the Stooges, MC5 and Tyvek (Kevin Boyer was the original Protomartyr bassist) while incorporating the likes of the Fall, Girls Against Boys and Nick Cave into their brew. Their first record was recorded on the cheap while their new one has a noticeably better budget. Live they veer toward the budget sound of the first record but that rawness keeps it vital. I like how Casey dresses in a double breasted blazer and a button up shirt but sings like he’s dressed in rags. The juxtaposition catches your attention and you wonder why this mad man is dressed up. Besides looking quite good, Casey is the kind of songwriter that will have you looking stuff up in your encyclopedia. He’s smart, he dresses up and he rocks. I also loved Ahee’s endlessly inventive guitar. Casey gets a lot of attention for his lyrichs, but Ahee’s guitar really took these songs to the next level beyond just another garage band.
Before the show I had heard from numerous people about how Protomartyr were a jaw-droppingly good live band. They did nothing to make me think otherwise. My only complaint would be that Casey’s vocals weren’t as clear as the recorded songs, but that’s what the album is for.
When I hear Spray Paint sing the refrain to Yawn Factory: “She drives a heavy load in the dark part of the country.” This image pops into my head of Large Marge in her big rig describing to Pee Wee the “the worst accident I ever seen”. Spray Paint are not the worst accident I ever seen, they are more like a traffic jam. Their spare twin guitar and drum attack pierce you’re conscious and create anxiety, stress and general disquiet. Spray Paint can grate on you and grow on you all at once.
After two attention grabbing singles the Austin band have released their first full length album. The songs are short and taut with lyrical spikes as well a guitar ones. The best ones on the record seem to come at the beginning of the album. Canadian Trash, Yawn Factory and Nose Whiskey all grab your attention. The second half of the record suffers from the band’s inability to ease up and let a little space into their claustrophobic and hyperactive sound. A little more variation would provide more space for impact. In that respect it reminds me a little of XTC‘s White Music. Maybe they should have tried a Dylan cover to lighten the load.
The album may not be an out and out winner, but I really like it. Spray Paint are working with a different set of instructions than most of today’s indie/ punk bands. They sound part Terminator futuristic and part back woods Deliverance.
No introduction needed really. Here are my top 10 favorite 7-inch records for 2012. Hope you like ’em too.
1. The Intelligence – (They Found Me In The Back Of) The Galaxy (In the Red)
First time I heard this song my jaw dropped. It was at the Crocodile in Seattle and Lars introduced it as an old song. At first I believed him, thinking it must have been on some obscure split 7-inch that came out in Moldova. Why did Finburg decide to relegate one of his best songs ever to a release in Moldova? Of course he didn’t. The guy’s not an idiot. Maybe a little nuts. Galaxy was in fact a new song that he initially recorded with another pop genius Kelley Stoltz. It’s the Intelligence at their best which is off their rocker (Why is he in the back of the Vatican with a manikin, and how do you exactly get to the back of the Galaxy? ). The single version is bit more lo-fi than the album version, but I could hear this song over short wave radio and it would still floor me.
I love records that surprise the hell out of me and that is exactly what Daddy Walk did. The Felines somehow were either able to bottle lightening or sold their souls to some evil Norse god for this record. What is the Daddy Walk? Who the hell cares when it’s as crazy and wild as the Felines make it sound.
What if you got a computer girlfriend or boyfriend back in 1982 and it never got updated? That’s gotta be a movie, well at least it’s a song thanks to Laura Hill who records as the Scraps. Her bedroom synth compositions are part early Magnetic Fields and part Blow. Weird and abstract and dazzling, Scrapes make you feel like your floating in an electric ocean in 1982. Consequently that was the year Tron was released.
Austin’s Spray Paint fly under the radar but make so much noise that they have been detected. Warped, angular, bizarre, off kilter, and bashing their way into existence. When I first heard this I didn’t believe my ears because I didn’t think there ever would be another band that could mix pop and weirdness to such detrimental effects. Nothing this year has sounded this good and fucked up at once.
5. Blanche Hudson Weekend – Just Like Susan George (Odd Box)
Blanch Hudson Weekend blow the roof off the house with their ode to English actress Susan George. This reaches the heights that the Jesus and Mary Chain scraped back in the 80’s. That good. ‘Nuff said!
Kindred souls of Aggi Doom and Fear of Men, Adelaide, Australia’s Terrible Truths made their US debut with this icy cool single. Big fluid bass sounds that make you want to wiggle, while the jabbing guitar keeps you on edge. If ever there was a case for a double A-side this is it. This is post-punk bossa nova. Quick, see if you can change that Ipanema ticket to Adelaide.
A chincy sounding drum machine, guitar riff that sounds like it came from an Analogue Africa compilation, and a singer that sounds part Shaun Ryder and part Mark E Smith: Chips for the Poor sounded like they may have invented themselves in some strange vacuum. If it means more singles like this I hope they become hermits.
Pant’s Yell called it a day rolled up their pants and called themselves the Cuffs. The new name fits. Pants Yell tended towards the move docile end of rock n’ roll. The Cuffs don’t want to snuggle they want to rock and that they most certainly do on their debut single. Powerpop with just a tinge of tenderness.
There seemed to be a lot of quality 60’s inspired psychedelia seeping into the collective conscious this year. The best of it all was the Paperhead’s Pictures of Here Demise. The Nashville band took Piper era Pink Floyd and Face to Face era Kinks and molded it into a hallucinogenic masterpiece.
10. Total Control – Scene From a Marriage (Sub Pop)
A classic case of putting the B-side on the A-side and the A-side on the B-side. Contract is the Charlie Brown side, getting the football pulled away by Lucy and the A-side Scene From a Marriage. The guys were probably afraid of scaring off their core audience or something, but Contract is so good it could hypnotize even the most ardent tatt’d hard core dude onto the slippery slope of synth rock. Nah, not really this is Kraut influenced to the max so it’s got cred. La Düsseldorf in full effect and ya don’t stop. Pick up the needle and put it on again…and it keeps on ringing…
Spray Paint are two guitars and drums from Austin, Texas that have apparently been abducted from Dikes of Holland, Expensive Shit, and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Their debut single has just been issued by Sacramento, California’s S-S Records. It’s a limited pressing of 200, and I just saw that there are only 20 copies left of it (so the 20 of you people that read this blog have been warned). This record fucking kicks ass (note: I only use the f-word when reviewing punk records that kick butt). If you are a fan of the A-Frames and the Intelligence then you will not be able to live without it. It sounds like a tempest in a garbage can, intensely dissonant yet strangely catchy. Single of the month and maybe the year.