I believe Protomartyr’s debut No Passion All Technique slipped through many cracks, including our own. It was a hardnosed punk rock album, full of ferocious energy and singer Joe Casey’s looming stories inspired by his waning, bankrupt hometown of Detroit. Only a year later, the band returns with Under Color of Official Rights, a sharper and more nuanced album in every way. For starters, they’ve cleaned up their sound considerably, but they’ve done so without losing any of the punch that made their debut such a raw, boiling record. But for the most part, this is also an album that embraces melody in a much more emotional and straightforward way. The fourteen short-to-the-point songs on the album are jam-packed with hooks, on where Greg Ahee’s cunning, explosive guitar chords and Casey’s expressive vocals feed of each other in total euphony. “Scum, Rise!” and “Come & See” are two of the most vibrant and heart-ripping punk-pop songs on here, traveling an enormous distance in their few short minutes. Then there are tracks like “Violent”, a calm, slightly strewed art-punk song that inverts perceptions of what a punk song should sound like. In effect, it feels more at home on Television album than on something hailing from the Detroit noise punk scene. And that is perhaps the biggest revelation of Under Color of Official Rights. It has all the right elements of a classic punk rock record, without necessarily being or sounding completely like a classic punk rock record.
Not every song is savvy as the above stated examples, and there are a couple of near one-minute songs that add very little to an otherwise well-seated tracklist. But mostly, Under Color of Official Rights see an already incredible band taking further steps in their development. For a band that embraces dark themes of violence, death and destruction mostly inspired by books and news stories, these songs are almost ridiculously inviting. Like with most classic punk rock records – hailing either from the UK in the 70’s or New York in the 80’s – it’s the fury, not necessarily the lyrics that makes them transcend. You don’t have to live in Detroit or know what the hell Casey is singing about, these songs still makes you want to clench your fist in anger. Yet, if you dig below the layers of tonal brilliance and fist-shaking passion, Casey’s words will hit you with force.