As new strains of the deadly coronavirus circulate globally, it seems that the more positive pandemic of post-punk continually mutates, re-infecting us with new renditions of itself every few years.
Post-punk emanated from punk, of course, first as a reaction against punk, with its brutal brick wall of guitars, and then as an evolution into its own spiky, spacious style of music. While initial iterations of post-punk were in the late 1970s and early ’80s (with first-generation post-punk bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Fall, the Cure, Joy Division, PIL, the Raincoats, Pylon), there were variations throughout the ’80s and the ’90s. Notably, in early ’00s New York City, bands like Interpol, the Strokes, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made their indelible mark on the genre. While post-punk has never truly left us — Parquet Courts and Deerhunter, anyone? — the time has come again for post-punk to have another moody moment.
It seems that in this recent ideation of the genre, there is yet another invasion from the British Isles: UK bands like Shame and Idles harness the agro energy of hard-core, while English musicians HMLTD and Black Midi showcase awkward art-punk and jazzy prog-punk, respectively. Over in Ireland, meanwhile, we have the beat poetry stylings of grammy-nominated Fontaines DC, and Murder Capital’s brand of elegantly aggressive melodies.
But there’s another post-punk band within the current crop hailing not from London or Dublin, but from Motown territory. Called “the best band we’ve got in America right now” by Iggy Pop, Protomartyr hails from Detroit. While they are thoroughly American in many regards, they have striking similarities to Dublin’s the Murder Capital.
On its 2020 release, Ultimate Success Today, Protomartyr channels the raucous garage rock of Detroit’s proto-punks MC5 and flavors it ever so delicately with nuanced flourishes of Motor City soul, with Joe Casey delivering dystopian lyrics in an unsettling deadpan voice. Protomartyr, founded in 2010, can be challenging to listen to. The singer’s impenetrable persona can preempt accessibility, certainly a deliberate tactic, although the gargantuan slabs of sound on their 2020 release act as a galvanizing counter to Casey’s artful aloofness.
Murder Capital (founded in 2018), on their 2019 debut,
When I Have Fears, make slightly more accessible music with somewhat traditional structures and melodies, and gruff vocals. But the stabbing, slashing guitars — not to mention lyrical content that targets disturbing concerns in minimalistic verses — beg comparisons. Both bands delve into murky existential lyrical terrain as riotous riffs reverberate and drums pound militantly, infusing the atmosphere with ominous sonic shadows. The effect is destabilizing in both cases, creating internal disharmony in the listener, affirming a creeping bleakness into our already-wearied lives.
It’s almost as though there’s a discrete conversation between Detroit and Dublin post-punk rockers. Murder Capital’s dark buoyancy may allow some levity into its proceedings with songs like “Slowdance I” and “Slowdance II”, and Protomartyr may flirt heavily with a stoner nihilism and bombard us with bombastic riffs, but there’s an undeniable kinship between the two bands. Both convey the gravity of the times with a stark urgency – Protomartyr with prescient resignation, as in “Processed by the Boys”: “When the ending comes/is it gonna run/at us like a wild-eyed animal?/a foreign disease washed upon the beach…a riot in the streets…”
And the Murder Capital answering with a dour affirmation: “So we remember why we die…There’s nothing on the other side” in “Don’t Cling to Life.”
Whether engaging in deliberate dialogue or not, martyrs and murderers disorient our senses with pummeling post-punk that forces the genre ever forward.