Sometimes questions are more important than answers, and few people in indie rock are asking better questions than Joe Casey. As the lead singer and lyricist for Protomartyr, Casey's lyrics often feel like a barrage of non sequiturs, stacks of intriguing yet unrelated statements that don't cohere until you give them a moment to sink in -- and when they do, they hit like a hammer. Casey's songs are the musings of a man observing a burning world, delivered with an attitude that feels like a shrug and a fierce bellow at the same time, and if they don't literally pose questions, they offer challenges that demand answers, with an intelligence that's book smart while embracing the sweaty, muscular pleasures of loud, guitar-driven music. On Protomartyr's fourth album, 2017's Relatives in Descent, Casey's angular poetics are sharper than ever, a bitter but vivid litany of a dark era in American life, and the band's interaction with them is superb. Relatives in Descent was Protomartyr's first album for the successful U.K. indie label Domino, and with a bigger budget and a new producer (Sonny DiPerri) at their disposal, this music boasts a clarity and precision greater than their previous work. At the same time, Relatives in Descent is still dark and shadowy music, with Greg Ahee's roaring guitar sometimes sounding like it's being overheard from around the corner, a trick that's remarkably effective. (And Ahee's more direct attack still boasts a gift for dynamics that's impressive coming from a band this enamored with high volume.) This music hits hard, but with a keen focus and a clear sense of purpose, as the rhythm section of Scott Davidson (bass) and Alex Leonard (drums) strikes with an exacting strength that's as wise as anything Casey has to say, which is no small achievement. Relatives in Descent manages to sound more thoughtful and introspective than 2015's The Agent Intellect without sapping the strength of this great band; quite simply, as a bit of record-making, this is Protomartyr's most impressive accomplishment to date.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming