Not all great album stories begin with a case of beer and very little plan, but when a newly constituted Protomartyr entered Detroit’s Hi Bias studios with engineer Christ Coltay in late 2011, they had four hours’ time booked with the idea of putting down enough material for a single. Instead, they finished the session with 21 songs.
Just 450 copies of No Passion All Technique were originally pressed on the similarly new local label Urinal Cake, a consignment which sold out largely off the back of word of mouth; rumours were that there was this half-crazy sounding new band in the area who’d made a record which channelled The Minutemen, Slip It In-era Black Flag and British mavericks The Fall.
The band’s singer Joe Casey sees it, with the power of hindsight, as utterly flawed, but with the affectionate concessions you give to a messy first child. He’s wrong of course; as Protomartyr have gradually built their reputation as one of America’s finest punk bands it’s an essential document of their raw beginnings and kinetic furiousness, one which never lets up, relishing its sins.
It’s also a collection of songs in which their much stigmatised home city features as a hollowed out mistress and sanctified healer, Yspilanti and Jumbo’s each directly referencing nearby places, while Machinist Man is a character from its walking dead, one who works all week then spends the weekends drowning his conscience with beer after lonely beer.
Like him, nearly everything here is something primal, clinging on by its fingernails, the cacophonous roar of Hot Wheel City and its neon-lit world of “Smoking gods/Spoke in bars/Sparking cars, burnt shells” an abrasive, real world for insiders who have chosen to hide in plain sight. The weight is sometimes unrelenting, but there are also bizarre moments of relief such as on Feral Cats, the descent of Casey’s drug taking neighbours into street-dwelling felines a reminder of how close everyone is to jumping backwards down the evolutionary trail.
Lovers of Mark E. Smith will also find much grain here; the jumping, distended rockabilly the witch-savant made his own forming the backbone of songs like Free Supper and Don’t You Call Me Out My Name. Elsewhere, Casey is oblique: the swell and dank scrabbling post-hardcore of How He Lived After He Died a reflection of either the missing teeth of urban decay or asphalt-black Detroiter humour.
Equally, it’s not clear why No Passion All Technique is being reissued now, two years short of an anniversary that feels insignificant for such an admired band. Some ‘new’ material is added in the three tracks from the separate Dreads 85 84 7 7” and the temple pounding closer Whatever Happened to The Saturn Boys, but for once the motivation behind the act doesn’t really matter. Instead, you can marvel at how speed as a necessity, post-industrial soul eating and a chemistry four men didn’t know they had combined to make a stellar debut album.
You won’t need to drink a case of beer to authentically enjoy it, but it may help.