Over the course of their 30-year career, Winnipeg’s Propagandhi have morphed and matured with remarkable grace. While their politics and core values have held steady, their music has slowly developed from spry, catchy pop punk into the aggressive blend of melodic hardcore and thrash featured on seventh LP Victory Lap. This evolution may have come intuitively, but the band’s lyrical themes are pointedly adapted to the current climate. “You say not all cops, you say not all men,” Chris Hannah scowls on the title track before noting that “this whole damn beautiful life [is] wasted on you… and me.” The following, sinister-sounding “Comply/Resist” addresses the hypocritical and condemnable treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and the impossible double-binds they are constantly caught in.
In addition to these ever-pertinent social threats, the band deal with the travails of getting older, and balance out the macro themes on the record with the personal. New member, guitarist Sulynn Hago, proves to be a natural fit with the band, working melodic counterpoints and flourishes into their winding song structures. She brings a jolt of fresh energy to a band that have become sage veterans of increasingly angry and desperate emancipatory politics. In a world where acts like Propagandhi are only becoming more necessary, it’s reassuring to know that they have built an impassioned reserve, ready to pick up the cause no matter how long the Victory Lap
authentic. There’s never a sense that she’s masquerading. Despite Nokia’s artistry, though, Deluxe has a few marked flaws. Her cadence and punch lines are amateurish at times, there’s something flat about the production and overall mix, and the canned drums and bass just don’t fill the ear like they should. Overall though, Deluxe is a solid effort that proves this Harlemite has the range. (Rough Trade) may last. (Epitaph, epitaph.com)
How has the introduction of guitarist Sulynn Hago changed the dynamic?
Hannah: Sulynn really is one of us, which I kind of knew from the first time I ever corresponded with her when we were looking for a guitar player, and it’s worked out really great. It was the first time we ever reached out to the general public to look for a band member, and certainly the first time we’ve ever had a long distance relationship with a band member, because she lives in Tampa. Originally she was only supposed to play on two songs, but she managed to get onto almost every one. She’d just say, “put on this song and hit record” and she’d do something to get on there. The songwriting essentially was being done by a three-piece or sometimes even just two of us, though.
How have reactions to your political messages changed over the past three decades?
The reactions are far less negative than they were in the ’90s. When Less Talk More Rock came out, a lot of people abandoned the band and couldn’t bring themselves to buy a record that said “gay positive” on the cover. Now, no one bats an eye at that shit. In those very limited respects, the world has caught up and probably surpassed the band. We don’t have the death threats that we used to get, so I like that!
With those lanes occupied, consistency is ultimately what sets Protomartyr apart from the pack. Their development has been steady, as each new album broadened the scope and lyrical ambition of its predecessor. Relatives in Descent is a culmination of the band’s potential; they sound a career removed from the scrappy garage punks who released No Passion All Technique just four years ago, even as they remain snidely dissatisfied. And why shouldn’t they be? Protomartyr have always hit back at the ghastliness of late capitalism, and amid further turmoil, singer Joe Casey’s blows have only gotten more direct. “Up the Tower” gives allegorical significance to its “marble emperor’s” gaudiness and fixation with gold, but Casey doesn’t settle for easy targets. Wolfish, braying boors populate opener “A Private Understanding,” while “Don’t Go to Anacita” contrasts “the straight white streets” of a gated town with the migrant workers and anti-vagrant systems that maintain it. These condemnations feel especially ferocious with the full weight of the band behind them. “Male Plague” blisters with contempt for its mediocre subjects, while the ominous bass and low, rolling beats make the malaise of “Windsor Hum” feel inescapable. At its best, Relatives in Descent makes guitar music feel radical again, capturing both timely and timeless anxieties. (Domino, dominorecordco.com) Rostam
Since leaving Vampire Weekend last year, producer-songwriter extraordinaire Rostam Batmanglij has been dipping his finger in a number of musical