Enough has been said about post-punk’s association with politics. It’s been explicit since its inception in the late 1970s: from the analytical fury of Gang of Four, to McCarthy’s bleak assessment of Thatcherism. Of course, albums define decades – they are the musical equivalent of history books. If the 1960s was the epoch of the protest song, then 2020 may be remembered by some as the year post-punk tackled politics head-on with even more cynicism and direct scrutiny than ever.
The likes of The Fall were musical pariahs – of their time yet always at odds with everyone around them. Funny, then, that it’s Mark E. Smith’s scathing, spoken-word diatribes that inform the lyrical delivery of most of today’s post-punk bands. Protomartyr are a case in point, but they keep things interesting by also being concerned with contemporary issues using droll observations of a collapsed society. On their new album, Ultimate Success Today, there is a lot to unravel – from mental illness to the morass of American life. The band’s fifth studio album is everything you’d expect it to be: furious, unrelenting and pitch-black dark. ‘Modern Business Hymns’ is archetypal of what Protomartyr do best: vocals that alternate between sloppy and literate, with a faint hint of melody bubbling beneath the surface.
Ana da Silva (friend of the band and founding member of legendary punk band The Raincoats) said that there is darkness in the poetry of Ultimate Success Today. Indeed, the theme of things ending – of political and ecological collapse – is ever-present, and reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s classic post-apocalyptic novel The Road. Listening to a record like this can sometimes evoke the same feeling one gets from reading such a book. Ultimate Success Today is thought-provoking, distinctive and testament to the boldness of post-punk in the present day.
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