Protomartyr Credit: Daniel Topete

One of the most spectacular characteristics of Detroit’s Protomartyr is just how spectacularly understated they remain as a postpunk force, even with the recent release of their fourth full-length and Domino Records debut, Relatives in Descent. Subtlety in postpunk is par for the course—the subgenre is essentially defined by its minimalistic structures, exercises of negative space, and detached nihilism—but on their new record, Protomartyr’s sound is giant without ever verging on arrogance. Tip a hat to front man Joe Casey, whose vocals softly slosh like a glass of bourbon being carried through a crowded bar without surrendering a drop. Or guitarist Greg Ahee, who stretches melodies patiently and precisely until he’s surreptitiously unfurled them over the entirety of a track, as on “My Children.” And do not overlook Protomartyr’s backbone. A slow burner like “The Chuckler,” for example, is held in place by a chopping rhythmic buildup that’s both urgent and enduring, while “Up the Tower” and opener “A Private Understanding” are grounded by rolling, irregular beats. Because Protomartyr was born and bred in the Motor City, and because their luster onstage is a little DMV, a little substitute teacher, they’re quick to be described as workmanlike, a product of their hard-nosed surroundings. But boiling the band down to such simplistics is an almost egregious disservice, especially considering Relatives in Descent represents not only their most ambitious record to date, but also their most flexible and savvy.   v