Music has always been used as a vehicle to promote an idea of otherness, non-conformity, escapism, of worlds within worlds and worlds beyond as well. If you are the rocker you probably use that theme to play the role of the edgy outsider, the loner, the tough man, those drawn to more progressive music might use it to paint fantastic pictures of lost worlds or future predictions. Protocol: M explores such ideas in subtler and more mercurial ways.
The previous album to come out of the Protocol: M stable, Clockwork, was a collection of songs that wandered between style and subject matter, an eclectic outpouring typical of first albums, but this time around, Colin May, the man behind it all, offers a more focussed vision. His take on otherworldliness takes the form of a place on the fringes of society, a place where people who don’t fit in, purposefully or otherwise, go about lives very different from our own. It tells us that our view of the world is just one version, a view informed by our own narrow life path through it, but there are many other paths, many other versions of this world.
And just as it wanders interesting streets to collect its narratives, it wanders similarly off-beat sonic pathways too. There is a dark, indie core to the album as a whole but the devil, as they say, is in the detail and the detail here is wonderfully hypnotic and musically intricate. Still Life and Moving Pictures travels through a strange, slow, circus tune stomp, Gunshots and Violins rubs shoulders with The Cure’s dystopian pop and Tom Bongo is a late-night dance floor filler for the last club night before the apocalypse.
It would be easy to suggest that this is just nostalgic tipping of the hat to various forms of post-punk, but unlike many bands re-ploughing that furrow, Plastic Alter Ego goes well beyond that, bringing in everything from rock to dance to industrial edginess to brooding alt-pop and even touches of shimmering shoegaze. If there was a punk movement and then a post-punk next chapter, then the next wave could be labelled post-post-punk, presumably. Take that illogical scenario three or four stages on and you find Protocol: M not just keeping the flame alive but finding newer, cleaner and more efficient musical fuels with which to sustain it.