Formal Growth In The Desert

Protomartyr’s return last month finds them “sounding vital as ever” (Stereogum), and the Detroit four piece have just presented their new single “Elimination Dances” from the forthcoming “Formal Growth In The Desert” (out 6/2)!


This new reveal off the album is named after a chapter from a 1950s teen dance manual, where you ‘get tapped out when you lose the dance,’ and which feels a powerful and apt metaphor for life survival. “You might as well keep dancing until the tap comes,” says the band’s frontman Joe Casey.


“My dad once told me ‘Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end the faster it goes.’ That idea along with the lyrics led to the idea of a choreographic pattern that repeats as it grows outward in an expanding spiral. The choreography repeats with each cycle but has to be danced faster and faster to keep pace with the ‘pale youth’ until eventually devolving into chaos. I recently learned that the toilet paper quote was actually by Andy Rooney.” – Yoonha Park (director of the video)


Protomartyr have mastered the art of evoking place: the grinding Midwest humility of their hometown, as well as the x-rayed elucidation of America that comes with their vantage. Though Casey did have a humbling experience staring at awe-inspiring Sonoran rock formations and reckoning with his own smallness in the scheme of things, the group’s sixth album is not necessarily a nod to the sandy expanses of the Southwest. “Formal Growth In The Desert,” recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, proves Detroit, too, is like a desert. “The desert is more of a metaphor or symbol” Casey says, “of emotional deserts, or a place or time that seems to lack life.”


On “Formal Growth In The Desert,” the desert brings an existential awareness that is ultimately internal. The “growth” came from a period of colossal transition for Casey, including the death of his mother, who struggled with Alzheimer’s for a decade and a half. Now 45, Casey had lived in the family home in northwest Detroit all his life. Immortalized in Protomartyr’s essential SPIN cover story, the neighborhood informed many of Protomartyr’s acclaimed albums, serving as a base through the band’s growth from scrappy punks to ones capable of touring the globe or bringing in the Breeders’ Kelley Deal as a touring member in 2020. In 2021, though, a rash of repeated break-ins signaled that it was time to finally move out.


Protomartyr’s music — more spacious and dynamic than ever — helped pull Casey up. “The band still being viable was very important to me,” Casey adds, “and it definitely lifted my spirits.” Having long served as Protomartyr’s unofficial musical director, guitarist Greg Ahee co-produced “Formal Growth In The Desert” alongside Jake Aron (Snail Mail, L’Rain).

Listen: Protomartyr – “Elimination Dances”

Protomartyr – “Elimination Dances”