“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”
Are the days of musicians “making it” done? A loaded question admittedly, and one to which the answer is obviously no, some people do still make it, do still live the dream, quit the job and become house hold names. For the vast majority though the new making money, is not losing money. Making enough from touring and t-shirt sales to keep making records, and being just the right level of busy that you can keep your job, but still get enough time off to play shows.
Whilst our witterings are often just idle speculation, as former members of unsuccessful, unprofitable bands, we know how hard it is to keep chasing that dream and remain in any way sane. It’s essentially like having two jobs, only the first job only exists to pay for the second one, and the second one often gets in the way of any potential career progress in the first. So why are literally thousands of people doing it to themselves? Because art and music, despite what our current “government” might think, matter. Music and art are the embodiment of passion, of creativity and in many ways the point of life, something that all too often gets lost in the pursuit of money and careers.
Martha dedicate their new album to the full time workers, who are also full time punks…
“This record is for everyone who leads a secret double life, devoting every weekend, every day of annual leave, all of their disposable income, every drop of creative energy to something as ethereal as music and art. It’s about persevering and still doing the things you love, even when most normal people can’t understand why on earth you do it.”
Thank you to each and every one of you who keep making music, you make life worth living.
Reading the various promotion and reviews of the new Martha album, Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart, there are certain facts every writer seems to pick up on; Martha are vegans, Martha are from the brilliantly named suburban-village me Pity Me, Martha are politically active, Marta are punk. These are all very true of course, but they rather miss one of the most important facts about Martha, they are, put simply, a blinding pop band. Yes, Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart is clever, articulate, heart breaking and political but what really jumps out is that it is full of brilliant, catchy, hook-laden pop songs. Take the sublime, Curly & Raquel, yes it contains a reference to ACAB (an anti-police acronym primarily associated with graffiti artists standing for All Cops Are Bastards) but more than that it is a blindingly good love song, with a stunning chorus and multiple Coronation Street references that paint Mr & Mrs Watts as a modern day Romeo & Juliet, “Weatherfield mademoiselle, thinking back to Curly & Raquel.”
Martha first came to our attention, and many others, with the slow burning success of 2014’s album Courting Strong. The album, released in the UK via Fortuna Pop, not only received rave reviews, but seemed to build the band something of a cult following. It marked the Pity Me-quartet out as the voice of the disenfranchised and those made to feel different, those who spent their formative years, as the band themselves put it, “growing up weird.” These were songs about love, gender identity, getting drunk and trying to kiss whoever the hell you felt like kissing at the time. It was the difficulty of growing up without falling into the neat tick boxes that society puts in front of people and expects them to fall within. Of course when your debut album is basically everything that’s happened to you in your life until you entered the studio, it does leave you with a rather challenging job come album number two.
It perhaps then should come as no surprise that Martha’s follow up, Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart, takes the band in different directions, both thematically and musically. There’s certainly an argument it isn’t as instantaneously gratifying as its predecessor. If Courting Strong was the idealistic roller-coaster of growing up, Blisters… is the sound of reality biting; both musically and lyrically it’s not quite as open, more guarded, but also most subtle, more nuanced. It’s not like they’ve suddenly got all cryptic, it’s just that, as with anyone who’s come out the other side of teenage dreams, reality isn’t quite as crystal clear or crushing as you’d imagined it would be. It’s almost as if this record is a little more shy than Courting Strong, but also more self-confident, Martha now sound more comfortable in their own skin and it suits them.
Opening track Christine in many ways sets the tone for the album to follow, it starts with a swirl of synthetic strings, an overdriven, fuzzy guitar buzzes into earshot, before a blast of drums, and a yelped urgent vocal enters, “I’ve been messed up in the head, since I finished watching Threads” (a British TV drama from the 1980’s about nuclear war). From there the track develops into a sort of post-apocalyptic love song, set to a musical back drop of easy, ska-influenced rhythms and a swooping, swooning chorus, all four voices seemingly chiming together, “I never heard a more romantic story, Christine everybody else just bores me.” Even this seemingly straight forward anthem for the love of your life is given a slightly questionable twist, as they note “I remember you in all your glory.” It hints at skeletons in closets, and a love that for whatever reason never blossomed, or at the very least didn’t continue to flourish.
The band have cited a diverse set of influences from The Replacements to Thin Lizzy, and certainly musically there’s more exploration than they’ve previously showcased; recent single Goldman’s Detective Agency is a full blown glam-stomper with an arena worthy outro, Do Whatever introduces a shuffling Tigercats like afro-beat skittle, whilst Do Nothing is a constantly evolving six minutes, whilst it is well short of full blown Rick Wakeman-prog it’s certainly closer than we’d ever thought they’d get, and it certainly suggests a liking for the more expansive end of the American-emo scene, and a touch of Sonic Youth.
If fans of the bands previous output are starting to worry, they shouldn’t, Precarious (The Supermarket Song) is classic Martha, a jaunty dissection of the tricky task of asking out that person who caught your eye behind the counter of your local food outlet. It’s got a ludicrously catchy chorus best approximated as, “oh oh when you gonna, when you gonna, oh oh, when you gonna get off work”, and a line about bass-player Naomi being, “the unexpected item in your bagging area.” But it also takes a pot shot at the current world of job insecurity and zero-hours contracts, bemoaning the nature of “neo-liberal precarious employment.” Elsewhere, the superb The Awkward Ones is arguably the best outsider anthem they’ve written to date. Over a thrash of chords and impressively dextrous guitar noodling, the big chorus finds them recalling, “we were the ones who always felt awkward, socially cornered”, but it’s the verses the true emotional hit crashes into view, drummer Nathan taking lead vocal and noting, “I won’t take a compliment but I will ruminate for hours on a single mean remark, collecting them like ornaments, the nasty things that people say that I save up and think about when it gets dark.” As so often with a Martha song though, you’re not given long to digest the heartbreaking lyrics before a melodically bountiful chorus comes into view, and here they throw in a superb break down for good measure, all four voices joining in a sort of nostalgia dripped, antiphonal round. It’s equally clever musically and lyrically, but mostly it just sounds fantastic.
One of the most intriguing moments, is latest single and de facto title track, Ice Cream and Sunscreen. It builds from little more than a wistful guitar strum and lone vocal, “the autumn forecasts looking dismal again, this year I’ll spend November in the house.” It sounds almost broken, a tale of not being able to provide the required spark a relationship needs, “I know you wished for fireworks to light your July sky, I was the dampest box of matches you never hoped to find.” All that melancholy gets lost though halfway through in a blast of thrashy chords and rapid vocal blasts, it goes to show how much lyrical meaning in music inferred from the tone of the music. Set it to a jaunty punk-pop blast, and throw numerous voices at the issue and suddenly it’s a sticky slice of summer romance.
With Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart, Martha set out to document the struggles of becoming a grown up, of remaining passionate and inspired in the face of work, money and general adult life getting in your way. This is the sound of not letting life grind you down, and still making time for what really matters, love, friendship, passion and most of all being the person you want to be. By following their dreams, they might just inspire a few more of us to do exactly the same.
Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart is out July 8th via Fortuna Pop (UK) / Dirtnap Records (US). Martha’s UK tour is currently under way, click HERE for details.