Release Date: Jul 1, 2016
Record label: Dirtnap Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
History has tended to favour the idea that true adversity breeds great art. If that’s true, then by rights the absolute shit-fest that has been 2016 should eventually spawn a slew of all-time classics. Before that can happen, though, we need strong voices, capable and willing to eloquently speak out about what the fuck is happening to the world. I mean, there’s been plenty of source material of late, with values, dreams and heroes alike dying out at a terrifying pace.
There’s something indefinably, indubitably likeable about Martha, the young four-piece indie-pop outfit from County Durham. That quality leaps out at you from the minute you glance at the tracklisting for their second album: this is a band quite happy to name a song after a Russian playwright or the lead singer of The Replacements. A band unafraid to reference two Coronation Street characters who probably left the show long before any of them were born.
English quartet Martha came blasting out of the Northern suburbs with their debut album, Courting Strong. Equal parts fierce punk and sweet pop, it sounded live and raw thanks to the production by MJ from Hookworms, along with the band's unflagging energy. After a couple years spent touring between day jobs and school commitments, they reconvened with MJ to record another album.
“This record is for everyone who leads a secret double life,” says Martha drummer Nathan Stephens-Griffin of ‘Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart’. Is he on about Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne? Well, perhaps the sentiment could extend to the superhero world, but in this instance he’s referring to creatives who tirelessly juggle everyday life with the pursuit of their craft, no matter how crazy that may appear to “normal people”. The difficulties that come with doing that inform the emotionally-charged pop-punk of the second full-length from the Pity Me group.
Durham punks Martha are the sort of band with such a strong sense of identity (and the smarts to match) that just about every song features immensely quotable lyrics that neatly surmise their worldview. How about this, from the only power-pop anthem of 2016 that’s likely to namecheck one of soap’s unlikeliest romances, Curly And Raquel? “The story of, a lonely kid who fell in love when you spray-painted ACAB on the wall, of the local village hall” or there’s Do Whatever’s “Then you had to go and spoil it, in the gender-neutral toilet. ” Winningly, their wit is matched by a thrilling, fizzing set of noisy, melodic songs that ought to inspire utter devotion and soundtrack many, many summers of abandon and heartbreak.
Tucked away in the northeast corner of England, the suburban hamlet of Pity Me is both the most and least likely birthplace for an emo punk band like Martha. It’s the kind of place whose very name inspires self-deprecating love songs, yes, but it’s also the kind of place where boredom and reactionary politics (County Durham overwhelmingly voted “Leave” in the recent Brexit referendum) are so rampant that they can’t help but breed radical solutions. Perhaps this is how Pity Me and Durham in general have become one of England’s most hospitable places for punk’s D.I.Y.
Since their inception in 2012, Durham, England punk poppers Martha have existed as a collective effort between Nathan Stephens-Griffin (drums), Naomi Griffin (bass), JC Cairns (guitar) and Daniel Ellis (guitar). The four share vocal and writing credits in a fashion that reflects their collective DIY, anarchist, vegan politics. Martha’s 2014 debut LP Courting Strong received positive praise for its autobiographical accounts of underdog outsiders told through extremely catchy hooks, anthemic outpourings, and plainspoken honesty.
The breadth of Blisters in the Pit of My Heart, the new album from Martha, will sneak up on you. At first blush, the band (hailing from a village in England named Pity Me) delivers tight, emo-inspired pop-punk. But these songs aren’t just three chords and speed; rather, Martha uses quick shifts and complex harmonies to turn songs on their ear. Sure, it’s hard to ignore the pure infectious choruses of songs like “Chekhov’s Hangnail” and “11:45, Legless in Brandon”, but beyond that there’s the hard-crunch-turned-light-melody of the former and the classic rock hints in the latter that make them stand out.
Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart will be total marmite for many: chronically uncool, hearts are stitched to sleeves with glittery thread and although it's ostensibly a record about adult problems – offices, supermarkets and that – it feels as if it's been scribbled in a journal with a biro-stained hand, sat at the back of the bus. Martha know that age-old anxieties don't fade once you have to start adulting, and race through pop-punk tropes and unabashedly intimate lyrics with unapologetic joy. There's a definite sense of deja vu, and maybe there's less of the bite that made the Durham band's debut Courting Strong feel so vital.