Tales of rock-band adulteration are lamentable and familiar enough to be reduced into three, easy steps: New, unassuming band makes great, nervy debut. Said band signs to large label, capable of paying for a producer and proper studio. Band makes softer, safer version of their first album and disappoints the early adopters.
That might've happened to Protomartyr, a scrappy and frantic Detroit four-piece who signed to the Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art on the strength of their sneering 2012 album No Passion All Technique. They indeed left the warehouse of their birth and entered a studio outside of the Motor City, working with the type of producer whose name is suffixed by name-dropping parentheses. The resulting sophomore LP, Under Color of Official Right, adds a few more jangling chords, a few more choruses and a lot more sonic depth to their wiry post-punk protestations. But rather than dampen the impact, the more sophisticated arrangements reinforce not only their verve but also the growing reputation of Joe Casey as one of the best new lead singers working: His deadpan is sardonic and specific, a laser beam of suspicion. With Under Color, though, he's able to lift into resplendent refrains that sparkle like college-rock and serve to underline the prickly power of the rest of the record. They'll share the bill with Whatever Brains, a band that scrambles expectations of punk, post-punk and pop in its own intriguing fashion. —Grayson Haver Currin