Monday, May 28th, 2018

Protomartyr – Wheel of Fortune



Alfred Soto: We Jukeboxers aren’t kind to songs with sections, much less songs with lines like, “His waning ardor needs blood to metastasize.” But I admire the flat Midwestern way in which Joe Casey renders his bad mood. The wind sound effects and spooky harmonies nod toward Pere Ubu. 

Juan F. Carruyo : A non-descript freakout assisted by an underused Deal sister punctuated by ambient silence. Repeat. Could’ve done without the repeat. 

Ian Mathers: I DECIDE WHO LIVES AND WHO DIES/I’ve been rereading John Brunner’s incredible, bleak, flawed, post-Dos Passos 1968 dystopian deluge Stand on Zanzibar, which doesn’t really feel like our current moment, but does feel like Brunner would be maybe the only writer from that era who would recognize the way our past became this present/they’re from Michigan of course they keep writing about politicians poisoning the water for profit/I DECIDE WHO LIVES AND WHO DIES/the rest of Protomartyr is so good as providing no-frills, high-tensile, versatile post-garage rock that it’s easy to take them for granted (assuming you like rock at all; it’s 2018, this shit is practically subcultural at this point) and focus instead on Joe Casey’s defrocked-for-heresy sermonizing and dense, cross-cutting lyrics, which, fair enough/yes not as immediately catchy (“catchy”?) as some of their singles, there’s that slow pounding trudge in the middle where he focuses in on the way we (or they?) have set up society so that we’re all in line waiting, feeling like everyone behind is scheming to take our places and hating and scheming against everyone in front, even though the whole thing is completely fucking unnecessary/I DECIDE WHO LIVES AND WHO DIES/of course you can’t get the same density of reference and wide-scope view in a five-minute song (even with added video and everything you can pack in there) that you can in an entire novel, especially one as tightly packed as the overpopulation-obsessed Zanzibar, but the glory of pop music is that it can feel like you can/Kelley Deal is great, the backing vocals here definitely add to the song, not sure I would have pegged it as her without them explicitly crediting her/are songs “political”?/“Today, to ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ means to overcome adversity without help from others, by your own determination. It often describes the attitude people have towards the poor and disadvantaged: if they’d just try harder, they could get over it without social welfare or charity. Ironically, in the early 19th century, around the time the term was first used, it was an idiom meaning to perform a ludicrous, impossible task. Casey argues that these two meanings are identical: it is completely impossible to simply rise from the working class into fortune, despite what the American Dream would have you believe.”/I DECIDE WHO LIVES AND WHO DIES/If they sold a t-shirt that said “a police state desperate to reach quota” on it, would I buy it? If I did, would it make a difference to anything? Can someone tell me how to separate my genuine beliefs and my desire for change from my posturing and my wanting people to think of me a certain way?/(Are there any songs I can think of where I care about the politics of what they are saying but viscerally dislike the song? I can’t think of any. I love this song.)/Writing in 1968, of course there are objectionable things about Brunner’s text. I haven’t gotten to the end but there is already plenty to say about how he writes his “Afram” characters and etc (which is not to take issue generally with the fact that his novel depicts racism, sexism, etc., especially since the mordant and often blunt Brunner clearly at least thought of himself as in opposition to those forces); similarly, while I don’t want Protomartyr (or any group of white men, including any I’m in myself) to be the only voice anyone listens to, I am glad that they are a voice, and I think they’re worth listening to./Whose bones do I stand on? Whose bones am I standing on right now?/I DECIDE WHO LIVES AND WHO DIES/a hand, on fire, giving you a thumbs up

Hannah Jocelyn: Relatives in Descent came out of nowhere for me: like the best possible midpoint between The National (who I love) and Swans (who I loathe on principle), but while that might sound like it results in awful, hyper-masculine sad-guitar-noodling, the band would be the first to criticize that exact kind of music (see: “Male Plague“). “A Private Understanding” emerged as one of my favorite songs from last year, blending highbrow literary references, political jabs, and more accessible drama (“she’s just trying to reach you!!!! she’s just trying to reach you!!”) without sounding pretentious or self-satisfied. The emotional power that made Relatives stand out is not nearly as present here. The choir breaks are distracting, almost cartoonish coming from a band who can evoke terror with nothing but an insistent drum beat. Yet it’s hard to hate a song where the climax is Joe Casey shouting “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is impossible!” I’m hoping for more moments like that and the outro in the future, but this one, while still compelling, lacks the poignancy of their best work.

Ryo Miyauchi: While a large chunk of the diatribe is admittedly lost on me without the lyrics on hand, what sticks is the hammering sign-off phrase, made even better with Kelley Deal: “I decide who lives and who dies.” The haunting post-punk by itself delivers, though, channeling both the fumes coming out their ears and exhaustion from surviving yet another day of political turmoil.

Tim de Reuse: First as comedy, then as farce, and then again, and again, and again, and then it’s 2018 and Flint still doesn’t have clean water. What do you call that, if you call it anything at all? Faced with this issue, Protomartyr thrashes about in place: Joe Casey yells “Water as commodity/All is comedy” with the same angry, tired roll you’d use to yell at an empty street. It’s bleak, and in some spots a little on the nose — The long, half-muttered description of the pathologies in American individualism is particularly unpoetic — but there’s an eerie glow that extends past the matter-of-fact cynicism and prevents the track from turning into a rote venting of frustrations. Part of this is textual (“Something growing deep on the inside!”), but part of it is sonic, in the hypnotic trudge of the mid-section and the ghostly hum of Kelley Deal’s backing vocals; ghosts on the horizon and something menacing just outside the frame. Where’s the wheel going to land? Given farce beyond farce, what comes after?

Reader average: [9] (5 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

One Response to “Protomartyr – Wheel of Fortune”

  1. Fittingly enough, today I finished Stand on Zanzibar on the train to work. The ending was as much of a let down as a I half remembered. Still love this song though (and I was bracing myself for a much lower composite score, so air kisses to you all).