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Protomartyr’s fifth album is a roadmap for varieties of doom 

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Lyricist Joe Casey was facing health challenges and depression while recording Protomartyr’s fifth album in the fall of 2019. But Ultimate Success Today (Domino) turns out to be more than a tale of personal demons — it’s a timely guide to a planet gripped by coronavirus and protests over racial justice. The Detroit-era post-punk band added free-jazz elements of woodwinds and cello from the likes of Izaak Mills, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Jemeel Moondoc, which give the 10 tracks an aura of avant-weirdness quite unlike any art-punk efforts out there.

Since the first Protomartyr album came out 10 years ago, Casey told podcast Aquarium Drunkard he wanted to wrap up the decade with a brightly colored bow. He never anticipated the song “Processed by the Boys” would speak so directly to police brutality, “Day Without End” to suggest pandemics, and “Michigan Hammers” to describe how weird his home state has become. Yet Protomartyr stumbled its way into the perfect 2020 chronicle. When singer Half Waif (Nandi Rose), joins Casey on “June 21,” the results almost sound like The National, but for the most part, Protomartyr has never sounded stranger, snarlier, and even downright scarier.

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