Formal Growth in the Desert

Domino • 2023

For their sixth album, Protomartyr left their home in Detroit and recorded their twelve new songs in Texas and »Desert« even appears in the title. However, »Formal Growth In The Desert« is far from Josh Homme’s sprawling desert rock or even swaying country.  

Rather, the desert can be understood as a metaphor for a vast space seemingly devoid of all life – so that both de-industrialised Detroit and even one’s own inner emptiness can become a desert. Vocalist Joe Casey’s poetic lyrics range from sad and angry to dystopian and downright nihilistic, but always remain enigmatic and ambiguous. »There’s 3800 tigers in this world / But there’s far too many of you / Of you, fools«, it says at the beginning of »3800 Tigers«, which logically ends with the idea that we humans could become food for tigers after all – or is it just a homage to the local baseball team, the Detroit Tigers?  

The band’s driving post-punk is as multi-layered as the lyrics, and after the last two more opulent albums, the band loses the classic horns. Casey often sounds like the equally eloquent and disillusioned but completely atheistic little brother of Nick Cave, who sings with Parquet Courts, who in turn pay homage to the guitar sound of early Sonic Youth. Slowly but surely Protomartyr become a reference in their own right and demonstrate with »Formal Growth In The Desert« that there is reason for hope even in a world as hostile to life as ours. After all, every desert blossoms eventually.