Protea’s self-titled debut release Protea is the work of three talented musicians — Kelly Staten (vocals/bass/piano), Josh Mitchell (vocals/guitar/piano) and Jonny Tornga (drums/electronics). It’s clear that everybody working on this project is a multi-talented creative because they all have more than one role to play. That excites me before I’ve even heard the project. And let me tell you that the music itself does not disappoint. “be it.” is the ethereal opener to this unique album. Tornga lays down a booming drum beat and Mitchell delicately plays a moody, twangy guitar rhythm. Staten’s vocals are forlorn and utterly transfixing. The synths blend perfectly with her stunningly-elongated notes in the choruses, as she sings that, “I know it’s beautiful / Why can’t I see it? / I know it’s beautiful / Why can’t I be it?” While these lyrics are obscure and, I’m sure, deeply personal, something about the way they’re sung makes them feel completely relatable.
The upbeat, peppy nature of the second track was totally out of left field, but I’m always a fan of the unexpected when listening to a lengthy record. “BurnYouDeep” is driven by huge power chords and Staten’s flexible and endlessly-versatile voice. She and Mitchell harmonize with impeccable precision on the choruses. I’m so impressed by the musical prowess of every band member. I can’t get enough of the gloomy electric guitar solo towards the end of the song. Fantastic work.
“Find It In Yourself” initially puts Mitchell at the forefront of the track, vocally, and this gives the track a bit of a pop-punk flair; something about his singing style reminds me of ‘90s/‘00s bands like Green Day and Blink-182. Even though the chugging guitar and punchy drumming remains the same throughout, the vibe of the song changes whenever Staten sings. It creates a truly interesting dynamic. Things take a more mellow turn on “Hungry Liar.” Tornga brings out the shakers on this one, which is driven by a very slow beat and drawn-out, effects-heavy electric guitar strums. Staten’s singing is, as ever, utterly sublime. She and Mitchell harmonize beautifully on the choruses.
“Reach” dials down the energy even farther, offering slower strums and even gentler drumming. But this intro is deceptive because the choruses are driven by electrifying power chords with the gain dialed back up to 10. They really smash the loud-quiet dynamic between the verses and choruses. But “Won’t Let You Down” might be the softest song on the record, as Protea dives into full-blown ballad territory. The chord progression is lovely, but it’s the vocal duet between Staten and Mitchell that truly glued this song together. Gorgeous. Of course, the uppercase on “DOLORES” gave me a hint that this trio wasn’t done with rock. Brutal drumming, gargantuan electric power chords and powerful singing merge to create a massive rock anthem; there’s a brilliant solo halfway through the song.
“Red Pine” maintains the boisterous vibe of the previous track, offering more chugging guitars and explosive choruses. There’s a satisfyingly dissonant quality to the rhythm on this track; Staten’s vocals complement it wonderfully, but I really have to give Mitchell a special shout-out for his guitar-work on this one. Top marks. And Tornga’s ferocious, staccato drumming, towards the end of the track, really gave it the energy it needed. This leads into “All For One,” which is a tamer song with mesmerizingly-complex guitar arpeggios and drum-work. Staten delivers with an amazing vocal performance, once again.
“$eeds” is driven by my favorite guitar passage on the album. Mitchell has found a breathtakingly good tone for his guitar here. That, combined with the high-fretted riff he plays, creates a real ear-worm of a song. The solo towards the end of the song is just mind-bending, though. It gives me real Jack White vibes. Unbridled, relentless, beautiful carnage. And the album closes on the tender note of “i’ll try.” which seems to be an answer to the opener. It certainly ends on a similar note to the intro, offering a gorgeous guitar rhythm, slow beat and wonderful harmonies from Staten. The perfect end to this eclectic collection of songs.
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