'Ultimate Success Today' Review: Post-punk stalwarts Protomartyr's intense, well-crafted LP revels in despair
Protomartyr has announced their new album 'Ultimate Success Today'. The forthcoming fifth studio album is slated for a release on July 17 via Domino. The LP was recorded at Dreamland Recording Studios, a late 19th-century church in upstate New York. It was co-produced by the band and David Tolomei, who also did the mixing. Featured guest musicians on the album include Nandi Rose, known by her stage name Half Waif, on vocals, jazz legend Jameel Moondoc (alto sax), Izaak Mills (bass clarinet, sax, flute), and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello). The album follows 2017's 'Relatives In Descent'.
'Ultimate Success Today' doesn't shower you with happiness, optimism, or even encouragement but rather embraces all the feelings that come with despair or dread and allows for a venting escape. Ana da Silva, a friend of the band and Raincoats founding member, gave an apt description of the album in a statement. “There is darkness in the poetry of Ultimate Success Today,” she said, adding, "The theme of things ending, above all human existence, is present and reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Our world has reached a point that makes us afraid: fires, floods, earthquakes, hunger, war, intolerance…There are cries of despair. Is there hope? Greed is the sickness that puts life in danger."
Protomartyr vocalist Joe Casey explained, "The re-release of our first album had me thinking about the passage of time and its ultimate conclusion. Listening to 'No Passion All Technique' again, I could hear myself hoping for an introduction and a long future, but also being cognizant that it could be ‘one and done’ for us. So, when it came time to write 'Ultimate Success Today', I was reminded of that first urgency and how it was an inverse of my current grapple with how terribly ill I’ve been feeling lately. Was that sick feeling coloring how I felt about the state of the world or was it the other way around?
Throughout the album, a coagulated sense of loss and time are whispered behind its curtain. The ever-swelling opening track 'Day Without End' opens with an '80s, 'Knight Rider'-esque bassline, increasing its sonic intensity at every bar and swallowing up listeners as victims of their own vain ambition. It questions its own sure-footedness while antheming success from the shadows of uncertainty.
The following track, 'Processed By The Boys' gets a kick-in-the gut indie rock groove as Casey sings, "When the ending comes is it gonna run at us like a wild-eyed animal. A foreign disease washed upon the beach. A dagger plunged from out the shadows. A cosmic grief beyond all comprehension. All good laid low by outside evil. Against belief, a riot in the streets. A giant beast turning mountains into black holes?"
It isn't until you reach the melodic 'The Aphorist' that you feel a release from the album's tyranny, but downward-bent sax grooves paired with loosely played guitar chords usher you back into its self-drowning charisma. Like a previously mentioned explanation, the album is not all peaches and cream and unrelentingly so. It aims to bring you into the realization of a harsher paralleled reality, even if it is advice from the band's own reality. You either choose to swallow it like a bitter pill or get a glimpse of it and walk away. There is no in-between. Apart from its lush and well-crafted music, the enjoyment of 'Ultimate Success Today' is found in the release you may feel in understanding pain better or in relating to a band that feels the same as you.
“This panic was freeing in a way. It allowed me to see our fifth album as a possible valediction of some confusingly loud five-act play," says Casey. "In the same light I see it as an interesting mile marker of our first decade of being a band - a crest of the hill along a long highway. Although just to cover my bases, I made sure to get my last words in while I still had the breath to say them."