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In a city full of brilliant people with dead-end jobs and dampened by bitter-cold winters, playing music offers a cheap outlet. Protomartyr’s taut, austere rock was incubated in a freezing Detroit warehouse littered with beer cans and cigarette butts and warmed, feebly, by space heaters. Short songs made for short practices, and the band learned quickly not to waste time. Despite the cold, Protomartyr emerged with a sound that is idiosyncratic but relatable, hooky but off-kilter.
There’s a temptation to call it garage rock, but that doesn’t quite fit. With respect to the local predecessors, this isn’t the primitive stomp of The Dirtbombs or The Stooges’ greasy roar. Punk works, kind of, even if it leaves the hardcore kids confused. Post-punk suggests something too retro; indie rock, something too precious. What Protomartyr is, is “stuck between the cracks.” If that’s the case, though, they aren’t alone. Protomartyr’s economical rock elicits comparisons to possible antecedents like Pere Ubu or The Fall as well as local contemporaries like Frustrations or Tyvek (whose frontman Kevin Boyer played bass in an early iteration of Protomartyr). Singer Joe Casey’s dry declarative snarl serves as a reliable anchor, granting his bandmates — guitarist Greg Ahee, drummer Alex Leonard and bassist Scott Davidson — the opportunity to explore textures and reinforce the rhythm section.
Reverb-drenched and bittersweet, Alvvays have been making music since yesterday evening, since last night, since dusk or maybe dawn, when the stars were coming out or going away. It’s sun-splashed and twilit, precise and overgrown, a gorgeous glittering fuzz-pop from the city of Toronto. Two women and three men, a crate of C86 tapes, a love of hooks and jangle, wistful shimmer, the sort of road-trips where the whole world seems sunglass-tinted.