PROTOMARTYR: Ultimate Success Today: LP

Protomartyr’s new one is a commitment. I don’t say this as a pejorative or warning, though it might sound like both, or either. Throughout the band’s five-album career, frontman Joe Casey has grimly intoned dystopian tales of the near future like a stuffed-up Mark E. Smith—but now those tales seem closer to reality than ever before. “Processed by the Boys,” on first listen, seems to forecast the pandemic, but what it actually predicts is the lack of American leadership and cooperation around the pandemic, with heavy, echoing chords and a largely brass-free rhythm section pounding out a tidal rhythm. Ultimate Success Today is these nightmare scenarios mixed with first-person specifics. I’ll always root for bands that challenge themselves, even if they wind up falling flat on their face as a result. Here, Protomartyr adds squalling horns, gaps, crescendos that build on the back catalogue but don’t rest on it—the complete opposite of a faceplant. Harrowing, raw, and whip-smart, a challenge to listen to in the best way. –Michael T. Fournier (Domino, dominomusic.com)