The Sisyphean moment in “Why Does It Shake,” the first single from Protomartyr‘s upcoming album The Agent Intellect comes at 2:21 when the tempo changes. Like the condemned Greek atop his hill, frontman Joe Casey’s confidence falters as Greg Ahee’s guitar elides into a martial drumbeat from Alex Leonard breaking off its crescendic assault. But, as French-Algerian philosopher Albert Camus says, we have to imagine Sisyphus happy. As thorny a topic as self alienation (“it” turns out the be the body) is, Protomartyr have thrown themselves into the task with a trademark ferocity situated somewhere between Ought‘s deadpan melodic mastery and White Lung‘s frenetic noise.
It’s Casey who stands in for listeners as he awakens to infinite resignation; Ahee, Leonard, and bassist Scott Davidson weave the treacherous terrain underfoot. Dissonant, throaty chords and intricate drum fills back Casey as he sings: “I am the founder of myself and I’m never gonna lose it…history’s my backyard/eternity’s my reward.” The instrumentation reaches its apex; the trip down towards the song’s conclusion sounds very much like the ascent but for Casey, now betrayed by the body so recently praised: “Why does it shake, the body, the body?” The way was always treacherous, but that short break near the two-minute mark without Casey’s crisp, powerful vocals clarified that no amount of confidence could make it more recognizable.
“Why Does It Shake” is a self-critical track holds up well under subsequent listens for that reason. It’s equal parts self-assurance and self-doubt, the latter made possible by the former. Protomartyr is a band at the top of their game, but the game seems absurd. Casey describes “Why Does It Shake?” as a “back-handed ode to humanity’s resilient self regard in the face of inevitable oblivion. Then the trap door opens.” Below, the monsters who were always waiting with open arms.
You can stream “Why Does It Shake” below. The Agent Intellect is out October 9 via Hardly Art.