Formal Growth In The Desert by Protomartyr album review by Ryan Meyer for Northern Transmissions


Formal Growth In The Desert


We are revisiting some of our favourite records of the year

Protomartyr have cracked the blinds to let the light in on their sullen, downtrodden discography with the release of their sixth record, Formal Growth In The Desert.

In interviews Joe Casey has spoken of the band’s attempts to reckon with sadness rather than wallow and fester in it on this record, and glimpses of this light shine through in lyrics like “But I’m not cold-hearted/Little dogs still lick my hands,” from second single “Elimination Dances.”

These same sentiments carry over to “Graft Vs. Host,” when he abandons all the philosophy and reference that is so prevalent in Protomartyr’s music and sings “She’d want me to try and find/happiness in a cloudless sky.” Casey is referring to his mother, who passed away in 2021. Formal Growth In The Desert is the first record the band have written since her death, and the first since the pandemic, and in Casey’s own words, it’s about “getting on with life,” and his version of it seems to be attempting to find beauty in the smaller parts.

Guitarist Greg Ahee’s quiet evil genius lies in the fact that it’s impossible to predict whether or not he’ll choose a dissonant chord as next up in the progression or the chord that the pop-conditioned ear is expecting. Both choices are ultimately rewarding, as is the consistency and bombast provided by the versatile rhythm section of Alex Leonard and Scott Davidson.

Musically, Formal Growth In The Desert is still the unintentionally charismatic Casey spitting and hollering over the racket his bandmates create, but with Ahee’s conscious decision to approach his compositions from a cinematic perspective, it’s one of Protomartyr’s most intricate records. They allow songs like “Rain Garden” to recede into tide-like swells to further illustrate the importance of the fact that Casey is, for once, singing of love finding him. Which is, as he implies, more than just a love song.

The record starts with chants of “Make way for tomorrow” and ends with “Make way for my love,” which is Casey’s way of showing the listener what tomorrow can have to offer if you can just make it through today. The sadness that permeates so much of Protomartyr’s music isn’t quite in the rearview mirror, but Formal Growth In The Desert shows them learning how to coexist with it.

Pre-order Formal Growth In The Desert by Protomartyr HERE


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