Published Apr 04, 2019There's an old cliché that says turbulent times create great protest music. Yet the Brexit/Trump-era has yet to produce a polemic on the scale of an "Ohio" or even a "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg." Much of the political art of our current era prioritizes resilience over resistance (a comment on the growing sense of powerlessness amongst the youth perhaps, but that's a thought for a separate piece).
Into this morass wade Martha, an English pop-punk four-piece who made waves with their second album, Blisters in the Pit of My Heart in 2016. They self-identify as both straight-edge and queer, and "DIY" is appended to the band's name in most of their social media handles. But their music scans as more heart-on-sleeve than ideological screed — their politics are personal, to use another hackneyed phrase.
Their third LP, Love Keeps Kicking, is nominally about heartbreak, though over what exactly depends on your perspective. Or is it about the larger sense of heartbreak? After all, as singer-drummer Nathan Stephen-Griffins noted in a recent interview, "everything is political."
Musically the band hew more toward the indie rock side of the pop punk spectrum — think early Swearin' with some of Japandroids' "whoa-oh" choruses thrown in for good measure. Anchored with sticky hooks and rousing choruses, Love Keeps Kicking lacks the sheer velocity of its predecessor. But as the mewling guitar line that kicks off "Heart Is Healing" suggests, Martha are more interested in pouring their guts out to listeners than bowling them over.
For the most part, that approach works here. Martha have no official front-person — everyone in the band sings — which only gives these songs a greater sense of communal euphoria. Whether you read "Into This" as being about a paramour who "only wants to kiss me when you've had a drink?" or about the larger sense of confusion and malaise that's paralyzed our world, whatever your interpretation, the euphoria that comes with shouting along with its chorus is bound to shake off at least some emotional baggage.
There are moments where you could imagine a more "produced" band juicing the emotional upheaval for all they're worth: copious guitar overdubs or big gang vocals would certainly raise the stakes here. But Martha's ramshackle accessibility is part of their charm. When the band do employ some studio manipulation, like the rousing synth lines that buoy the final third of "Brutalism by the River (Arrhythmia)" it feels all the more affecting because the band have generally avoided such tricks.
Love Keeps Kicking doesn't really break any new ground; it shares themes with recent releases from artists like Superchunk and Natalie Prass. But Martha's goal is more about making you feel than think. That they want to build listeners up, rather than bringing them down into the emotional mucky-muck, is only a testament to their own resilience in the face of heartbreak both personal and political. (Dirtnap)