Post-punk quartet Protomartyr's second album Under Color of Official Right follows their stellar 2012 debut No Passion, All Technique with an expanded sense of exploration as well as more nuanced production. The band was spawned from the same closely knit scene of Detroit noise punk bands that produced Roach Clip, the Intended, and Tyvek (Tyvek songwriter Kevin Boyer even played guitar on early Protomartyr albums), and their earliest output shared the same raw energy and sloppy, bristling approach as those bands. Without losing the push of their less refined early recordings, Protomartyr sharpen all the elements that make them stand out with Under Color of Official Right. The band's tightened performances leave plenty of negative space, filled tastefully by guitarist Greg Ahee's winding leads or explosive, reverb-saturated chords, as on the bombastic chorus of "Come & See" or the spindly, slightly gothic lines of melancholic opening track "Maidenhead." Pads of synthesizer and more experimental vocal treatments show up here, warping vocalist Joe Casey's deadpan delivery of a list of problematic characters at the end of "Tarpeian Rock" until the song sounds like the Fall dubbed out by King Tubby. Casey's obtuse, clever, and occasionally poetic lyrics are another winning characteristic of Protomartyr's equation, filling the moody backdrops set up by the band with rich images of desperation, banalities, and cryptic prophecies. The band hails from Detroit, but keeps far away from tired themes of urban blight, abandoned buildings, and other well-traversed ponderings about life in the shadows of the crumbling city. The most Detroit-centric the band leans is the lyric "And from the balcony, the sound of Greg Baise laughing" that ends "Pagans," referring by name to a notable Detroit show promoter. Though always approaching their sound with angular precision, the band is more direct here. The rhythm section of drummer Alex Leonard and bassist Scott Davidson set up strange skeletons for every song composed of unconventionally constructed drum patterns and fluid basslines, always with a mind for making lots of space. When the band rocks out with punk blasts like "Son of Dis" and the completely erupting "Want Remover," they maintain all of their exactitude, just at quicker speeds and in more furious waves of sound. The 14 songs of Under Color of Official Right see an already incredible band moving even further forward in their development, approaching the same instant classic standards of their best contemporaries and turning in their most intricate work so far.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas