Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes, Swan Lake) Talks Protomartyr’s Under Color of Official Right

One month or one year ago — it doesn't really matter now — somewhere and some time — I can't remember — in this late-era at least, in the...

One month or one year ago — it doesn’t really matter now — somewhere and some time — I can’t remember — in this late-era at least, in the drone-years for sure, this song by a band called Interpol came on a friend’s stereo.  You don’t need to know much about them; it won’t have a form outside of itself. We have already come far past the point where someone would actually put on an Interpol song, which made the fact that someone actually put on a song by Interpol immediately worthy of something-like-contemplation. Like: “Wow, someone put on a song by Interpol.”

Listen: I lived through their aristeia.  I don’t feel bad or mean pronouncing their meaninglessness; they have more money than I do, and can surely combat the blues of reading this pronouncement with a plate of beef Wellington or a weekend in Belize.  They’ve probably won an award, maybe even one from a jury, and that also can help them weather this not-meant-to-be-cruel pronouncement.

For if you live through something that is incredibly popular, you must be excused for not properly considering it, especially if you despise the popular culture, as I do, and as I feel you rightly should, as popular culture is a reflection of spiteful, senseless, putrid death-worship.

Meaningless doesn’t mean bad.  It’s just an attribute or characteristic.  And is it really fair to say that it won’t resound or echo through the ages when, in fact, I am talking about it right now?

Back to this party: I listened, almost intently, losing myself in the deep space of space-music — space-music being music that depends on a sense of space, music that would lose a crucial limb if one foolishly, or on a dare, or to be an ideologue, removed all of the space from the music.  I was impressed, moved, slightly swept away. Maybe the stereo was just perfectly voiced for space-music, or the room was perfectly tuned for space-music, but I remember all of the supposed-to-be casual listeners looking at the speakers, at first just furtive, scornful, bemused glances, but one minute later we abandoned conversation and poise and stared at the stereo speakers as if we all could see big violet streams of notes and chords pluming out of the exposed and throbbing cones.

And then the near-perfect song ended and the reality of our lives resumed, a reality where one just simply did not consider Interpol when considering aural considerations.

But still.

Imagine if, at a party, someone turned down the music and opened up an airport novel, something so ubiquitous that we cannot help but not consider it, and began orating, and out tumbled something like As I Lay Dying, and for a short moment the world (which is to say, the party) was like, “We have our new Faulkner,” and then this arch-being closed The Pelican Incident or whatever, and the effect wore off, and everyone in attendance shook their heads and thought, “What were we just on?  Some kind of heavy Grisham-exulting LSD?” or a version of that thought.  Once the drug wore off, we might be sad about not getting a new Faulkner, and if I were at that party, once the Grisham-squiggly wore off I, too, would bear the stamp of this sadness.

I would be like, “It’s not gonna be Grisham, but I sure would like a new Faulkner.”

So after the song ended, I think some of us thought, “If only there were a band that could again make us feel like this song once made us all feel.”

Interpol, because you probably don’t know, surfed upon big promises, the press-released promises of a reworking, reintroduction, reinvigoration of some familiar and beloved ’80s tropes:

  • Big sweep-swooping reverberating chords.
  • Occasionally angular and almost bratty guitar lines.
  • Icy and slightly detached baritone that crumbles into occasional fits of earnestness.
  • Drum beats that mimic the fills of analog drum machines: a slight syncopation, an intentional propulsion and simultaneous unsettlement; like dancing on a floor made of a living sentient creature that bounced perfectly but also felt pain from our dancing. Like: Whee! But also: Woe!

Protomartyr is the actual subject of this piece.  They made their first record, No Passion All Technique, in 2012, eight years after the first unmanned US drone killed a human being.

This doesn’t cast a shadow over the record.

It casts its winged shadow over everything?

Eight years under the drone’s shadow, if not literally then figuratively.

And then they made this new record, the one I have been asked to discuss once I stop writing about Interpol. It is called Under Color of Official Right.

Syllogisms in art don’t really work. Protomartyr might surf upon Interpol’s wave occasionally, but saying that Interpol sounds a bit like Joy Division at times (true), and that Protomartyr also sounds like Joy Division at times (true) does not mean that Protomartyr sounds like Interpol.

Except for the times that they do.  Listen to the guitar hook in “Bad Advice” and you’ll hear an “echo” of whatever Interpol was specifically mining so long ago.

But there’s also so much more!

I get my dose of the Fall in a few songs: “Ain’t So Simple” even has that great micro-delay on the vocals that suits a Mark E. Smith delivery so well.  I dig it.

“Trust Me Billy” brings me back to listening to the Pixies on a tape-deck pointed at the stars.

I hear the welcome influence of that great band called Rock*A*Teens.

But, to return to the crucial Fall reference points: It’s that petulant, verbose, self-sabotaging spitfire that makes me really dig this record, thankful to it for resurrecting that feeling of respect for a singer who shoots sharp and short spears out of his surly mouth, but also for making me feel at times that I can, with self-respect, be moved by a song that kind of sounds like Interpol.


Carey Mercer is a member of Frog Eyes, Swan Lake and Blackout Beach. You can follow him on Twitter here.