I wonder if it's even worth adding my two cents to the current online hype about Protomartyr? The band, like Parquet Courts about a year ago, seem to have reached that critical juncture where any criticism is wasted and any further praise would be redundant.
What I can do, seeing as how The Agent Intellect is released in a few days on Hardly Art, is tell you what this late-comer to the band's charms thought of the record.
In short: I totally dug it! The band makes a sort of pummeling rock not entirely unlike that of artists as diverse as Afghan Whigs or The Jesus Lizard. The edges are smooth here and the lines supple so what could be brutality unleashed is, instead, a punch -- or maybe a slap? -- wrapped in a velvet glove.
Opener "The Devil in his Youth" recalled for me the late period stuff from Wire but with more menace in the grooves. The slow-burn of "Cowards Starve" rewards both old and new fans of this band, while the near-Fall stomp of "I Forgive You" shows what this band would do when tasked with writing a hit single. "Dope Cloud" nods in the direction of stuff best described as inspired by early Nick Cave; there's even something vaguely Neubauten-like about this one. On the much written about "Why Does It Shake?" the band achieves a remarkably consistent tone of sly and funky rage. This is the sound of the moment before everything explodes.
If "Ellen" is a bit gentle, that's not to say that there's much on The Agent Intellect that is similar. This is largely music that manages to be both punishing and accessible and that's a rare thing to pull off. Channeling scores of previously more extreme acts, Protomartyr have made something full of rage that's a bit easier to digest. Sinister, thoroughly sleek, the cuts on this album all achieve a certain distillation of the band's appeal.