Martha - Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

by Al Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2016-07-22

Like a lot of you, I’m sure, I’m sitting here utterly disconsolate at the result of the EU referendum. For those not paying attention (and I don’t blame you): disaffection with politicians reached a head in the UK on Thursday 23rd June 2016, and manifested itself in a show of kneejerk fury against the neoliberal establishment. That means we (the UK) are no longer part of the European Union.

The alternative we’re faced with now, of course, is unbearably worse. The cabal of opportunist free-market ideologues who ran the Leave campaign will take power shortly and start stripping away workers’ rights and privatising anything that moves. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion we’re completely fucked.

The forgotten, formerly-industrial North-East of England was the harbinger of doom that night: the first large constituency to declare was Labour stronghold Sunderland, where two-thirds voted Leave, then my own home town of Newcastle voted Remain, but with a disappointingly tiny majority. The pound nosedived, the message was clear: we were in for a long and depressing night (Year? Lifetime?)

Whenever a liberal young person thinks of the North-East now, they’ll think of Brexit: the dying canary; that mole on your arm that you didn’t notice had changed colour. I’ve been grasping for positives, and there basically aren’t any, but at least we still have Martha.

Martha are four queer, vegan indie-pop-punks from County Durham and might be as big as a band who operate across two unfashionable genres can be. They’ve got a committed fanbase and they occasionally get mentioned on Pitchfork and played on 6 Music. And maybe, like Corbyn, they’ll never crack the wider public. Which would be a shame, because they’re just the best.

This album starts at breakneck speed, with Daniel Ellis’ quickfire delivery lending desperation to ‘Christine’, a typically lovelorn affair. ‘

’ is one of those smartarse titles that could grate if it wasn’t attached to a pure-pop masterpiece: all towering vocal riffs and teenage defiance. If I was being pernickety I’d say that the na-na-na and yeah-yeah-yeah at the end are a bit much, but I’m not and I love that stuff, even if the Kaiser Chiefs did their best to sully it.

‘Do Whatever’ has shades of sugar-sweet 80s power-pop, with killer riffs that segue from Afro-pop to college-rock to Buggles-esque synth-aping. In ‘

’ the band flex their lyrical muscles with some genre-fiction; and noir kind of suits them, although maybe I’m being naïve and the whole thing is about sexual politics. The post-chorus riff is surprisingly Thin Lizzy-esque, even while the rest of the song is classic Shrag-meets-Weezer Martha.

'Ice Cream & Sunscreen' plays that old trick of starting quiet and melodic and VERY SUDDENLY BECOMING LOUD AND STILL MELODIC. I like it a lot. It’s another one where there’s at least three of them singing as well, which is great, because they all have lovely and slightly different voices and hearing them sing harmonies is my favourite thing about music in several years. The harmonies were an occasional treat on the first album and it’s nice to see them happening a bit more here.

What else has changed? Well, these songs sound a bit more anthemic, though it would probably be a mistake to say that Martha are trying to be anthemic: it seems like more a byproduct of their natural ebullience. It’s organic, is what I would say if that wasn’t a bit wanky.

I’ve listened to Martha a lot now, and like any good music geek I’ve tried to pin down the slippery elements that make me love them so much. Here are my results: I absolutely love, and miss, bands who sing unashamedly in their own accents, and who sing about their own messy lives. Martha do this: all four of them, all the time. But more than that, Martha are the band who know political statements work best combined with frank, funny autobiographical details and sweet vocal harmonies; the band whose mastery of catchy, sincere guitar-pop is both impressively thorough and seemingly effortless.

And they seem to have emerged with a whole sound - and a whole detailed, political and personal worldview - while still in their teens. Los Campesinos! have been tweeting about how much they love Martha recently which makes a lot of sense because Martha are the band LC! could have been if they swapped their immense self-awareness for immense self-belief.

There’s so much to love about this band, and I hope you can have a meeting with your idealistic, pop-punk loving teenage self and decide to love them as much as I do. I’m completely in awe of you, Martha: you’re the realest of the real. Don’t ever stop believing.

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