Album: The Agent Intellect
Record label: Hardly Art
Release date: October 9th, 2015
Rock and Roll is a young man’s game. George Miller may have crafted Mad Max: Fury Road, the greatest action movie of this generation, at the ripe old age of 69, but no one expects that next Black Sabbath album to be any good. Conventional wisdom holds that musicians release their best material in their twenties and then inevitably fade away, churning out increasingly diluted and uninspired work as they enter their middle ages – if they haven’t already died at 27.
Over time, but especially in the past ten or fifteen years, older musicians have managed to buck this well-established trend. People like David Bowie, Bono, James Murphy, Björk, Mike Watt, Jason Williamson, and yes, even Dave Grohl, have carved out their own niche and encapsulated the archetype of The Elder Statesman. These folks have been through some shit, they’ve taken their hits and gotten back up, and they’re here to tell it like it is for all the kids who still haven’t figured it out yet.
Perhaps the purest distillation of this archetype is Protomartyr’s Joe Casey.
At 35 years old, with no musical experience or training, severe performance anxiety, and a voice like Jonathan Richman on Xanax, Casey decided to start a band. Because he has something to say, dammit. The Agent Intellect, Protomartyr’s third album, drips with the acerbic wit and solemn pathos that you’d expect from a guy who has endured living in Detroit for nearly 40 years. Someone who has watched his parents wither away in illness and senility and his city fall to ruin. Casey’s lyrics are dark and cutting, unfurling bleak profundities that few men his junior have begun to ponder. As he callously spits in “Dope Cloud”: “The halls of gold are theirs/ You’re only renting space/…Your passive mind that thinks/ ’Perhaps my ship’s come in’/ That’s not gonna save you, man.”
With an outlook as world-weary as Casey’s, it’s no surprise that his chosen mode of expression is post-punk, a genre characterized just as much by the disconsolation of its frontmen and women as the angularity of its guitar chords. The compositions on The Agent Intellect are as jerky and frantically rhythmic as a connoisseur of the genre would expect, albeit with few surprises. There isn’t much growth, musically, from last year’s Under Color of Official Right to The Agent Intellect. The tones, timbres, tempos and moods don’t change much from song to song. Despite this, the album rises above mere adequacy through the sheer power of Casey’s wholly unparalleled anti-charisma. In contrast to his vocals on Under Color…, Casey barely even tries to sing. Not in the proper sense anyway, melodies and whatnot. This is a good thing; he was never much of a signer to begin with. What he has done instead is master the sort of dreary, angry-but-tired speak-singing he employed to lesser effect on older tracks like “Bad Advice”. His energy is so contrary to what one would expect, so utterly dad-like, that it’s impossible not to be drawn in.
We’re so used to songs by people barely out of college, stringing together awkward poetry that paws toward sapience despite drawing from the shallowest pool of experiences. Joe Casey doesn’t have to pretend when it comes to that shit. He’s been there. What he’s saying is real. So despite being a stocky, middle aged Midwesterner with crippling stage fright, he projects a confidence that his younger peers can only dream of.
LIKEYOUSAID Critic Score: 8.0/10
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