No Passion All Technique

Protomartyr have re-released their difficult-to-find début album.  This is good news.  No Passion All Technique had become difficult to find after it went out of print almost immediately upon its release on Urinal Cake records back in 2012.  This is one of the problems with being on a subterranean indie label, all of 300 copies of the album were pressed on vinyl, and the band sold cassettes of it at their show.  Thankfully, their current label, the indie rock giant, Domino, has decided to re-release the album, with four bonus tracks, taken from Protomartyr’s first 7″, Dreads 85 84.

Here, the Detroit post-punk outfit remind us of all their promise and brilliance as they burst onto the scene seven years ago.  Greg Ahee’s guitars slash and burn, all tremolo and menace.  Joe Casey’s vocals are mumbled and jumbled, sounding like a modern-day Mark E. Smith (RIP).  And the bottom end of bassist Scott Davidson and Alex Leonard hold it altogether like a modern-day Mission of Burma.  This is some seriously good shit.

Like any brilliant album, No Passion comes with a legend, which tells us that the band headed into the studio for the first time with four hours of time booked and but a single case of beer between them.  The goal was to record a couple of 7″ singles, but the engineer suggested they just keep pounding out the songs.  And so, they ended up with 21 songs in total, including the thirteen standout tracks here, as well as the 7″.  The album is also of a time and a space, one that Casey claims to barely remember (I mean, find me a rocker who will claim to remember anything), and that time and place is Detroit a decade ago, a fragmented and fractured city, shorn apart by race, class, and deindustrialization.

In the years since No Passion, Protomartyr, whilst they have had their highlights, have largely failed to live up to the promise of this brilliant album, and it’s not hard to see why.  Sometimes bands début with near-perfect albums and it’s nigh on impossible to live up to that.  Think of The Stone Roses’ eponymous début, or Arcade Fire’s transcendent first album, Funeral.  No Passion quite possibly belongs in this category.

Across the thirteen tracks, there is nary a clunker, and it’s hard to imagine the album without any of them.  I am particularly partial to the three song set early on, as we move from tracks three to five, through ‘Hot Wheel City,’ where Casey’s vocal is buried in the reverb and guitars; to ‘3 Swallows,’ where Casey’s vocals stagger around, fighting with Ahee’s guitars for primacy, as he complains about getting old; and then into ‘Free Supper,’ which starts off with a post-punk fury, pogoing beat and Casey’s voice floating along over the mix.  And the bonus tracks, which are four of the greatest post-punk tracks I’ve ever heard.

I once heard fragments of No Passion, a long time ago.  But I’ve never heard Dreads 85 84.  Thank god for Protomartyr and Domino for making them available again.