Album Review: Protomartyr—“The Agent Intellect”

By Ayla Shiblaq

Detroit’s Protomartyr are the underdogs you root for. You know, kind of like the kid in that shitty Disney Channel movie you watched because “your younger sibling just so happened to be watching it” who sits in the corner of math class. He’s kind of in love with the main character and eventually helps her with her math homework. In the end, she gets dumped by the popular guy who was a jerk eventually ends up with the underdog, or something like that.

Album art The Agent Intellect

Album art The Agent Intellect

Protomartyr’s 2014 release of Under Color of Official Right was my introduction to the band (though they released their debut, No Passion All Technique in 2012). Unsuspecting, uncalculated, and raw, the album was a reassuring piece of advice from a good friend – you are not alone. Melancholic and aggressive, the album served as a soundtrack to the underdog tales of adolescence. The Agent Intellect is their graduation from opening act regulars to the main stage.

The themes of the album certainly do not evolve into anything particularly brighter from their last effort. The overarching themes of mortality, as a result of the death of lead singer Joe Casey’s parents, haunt the album with a new darkness – not one of inadequacy and skepticism like their 2014 effort, but one of a deeper sadness making The Agent Intellect their heaviest of releases.

“Why Does it Shake?” is a stand-out, being one of the most heavy tracks, both instrumentally and emotionally. Within this, Casey perfectly encompasses his chanting, a favourite element of mine in their album Under Color of Official Right, and his newly adopted harmonies. Casey claims that “the band does the music and I do the yelling. What I said then probably applies more now than ever. I’m a tick and the band is the dog.” But the disconnect is not entirely apparent. The “coming together” of the band creates the reassuring collective feel that being sad is okay. Then you burst into complete tears after the adorable “Ellen”, which is a love song from the perspective of Casey’s father to his mother.

Although the first listen didn’t entirely allow for the material to sink in (as most first listens should), the depth of the album becomes more and more apparent with each listen. The complexity of the metaphorical additions to the lyrics makes The Agent Intellect one of constant exploration of meaning within their themes of mortality and discovery, even if it’s far from a concept album. The Agent Intellect is cleaner, harmonious, and instrumentally superior to their 2014 effort. Growing from their boyish charm, here’s to hoping that this album leads this band to a happily ever after. (Hardly Art)

Listen: “Why Does It Shake?”

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