“A Private Understanding,” the first song on Relatives in Descent, wastes no time in getting right to the message. At first meeting with the barrel rolling Buckethead drumbeat and dissonant Shaggs chords, it becomes clear that Protomartyr is not pulling any punches with potential listeners looking for easily digested alternative music. In fact, at 1:33, the song shifts to a much more humble college rock sound before returning to the quizzically cynical musical beat poetry. One could see the first minute and a half of “A Private Understanding” as a gatekeeper to the rest of the album. Beware, all ye who enter and abandon all sense of making modern apathy sellable. And oh, does Protomartyr do a good job at making their product unsellable. Is that a positive or negative sentiment? Eh, who cares?
Really the challenge of Relatives in Descent is not any sonic material, but it’s the test of the listener’s ability to be rambled at for extended periods of time. “Here is the Thing” has so much sheer non-melodic lyrical content, that it really can be classified as a rap song. These guys are clearly from a big city of some kind, because “Here is the Thing” really creates the effect, ultimately, of driving the 405 at rush hour. So much unfiltered energy asking for the listener’s attention, much of it impossible to latch onto, and all of it draining a little bit of energy at a time. “My Children” simply adds more onto the happy fun-time carousel with lyrics about not having anything to give to the next generation and wishing them good luck with this f-d up world. It’s a sentiment that really feels as sour as the riff to “Windsor Hum” sounds. Like the new Pennywise portrayal, there’s a brutally nihilistic melancholy that seeks to revel in the madness one can embody once all hope is lost for humanity.
“Don’t Go To Anacita” and its major Young the Giant chords arrive with mistrust from the listener at first. No, this must be a mistake. That and the cute melody at the last third of “Male Plague” are the points of intrigue in the cynic’s rants because they read as finding moments of wild abandonment through the sheer sadness of all that is out there in the world right now. It gives the listener a lot more than the unresolved ending of “Half Sister,” that refuses to end the rambling energy of Relatives in Descent with any kind of bow, because God knows that there is not a bow in sight for any storylines right now. The thing about Protomartyr is that it does a very good job of capturing the mood of the time. It is anxious, pissed off and erratic. This will make for a very good retrospective on the music of the Trump era once, you know, the problems being talked about aren’t two mouse clicks next door.