Friday, July 29, 2016

A Martha Kind of Love

What do you think of when you think of romance? Chocolates, flowers, pink cards containing gooey messages written in swooping, swooning cursive?

If so, then Martha - Durham's foremost purveyors of charityshop jumper indie rock - want a word with you.

Martha's new album Blisters in the Pit of My Heart opens with a track called Christine, ostensibly a tribute to the bassist from Milky Wimpshake. In its chorus, we are introduced to Martha's somewhat unusual idea of what constitutes the perfect love story:

"Passion forged under a four pound box of wine,
That's when you knew, when you felt certain it was love,
He held your hair while you were throwing up,
I never heard a more romantic story,
Christine, everybody else just bores me."

In Martha's world, traditional notions of 'romance' are to be treated with scorn ("naïve romantic shite", as Do Nothing puts it) - real love, they imply, begins in strangers' bathrooms and outside shitty clubs and on hard shoulders, not on sandy beaches and in candlelit cafés like in the movies.

Perhaps the album's clearest example of this grimily realistic approach to romance is track three, Precarious (Supermarket Song). It's sort of modernised, 'Cameron's Britain' twist on the classic boy/girl duet: the boy works in a supermarket, the girl is there to stock up on "anxiety pills", and once he's done getting told off by his supervisor, they take a romantic stroll through the aisles and get to know each other while "lamenting neoliberal precarious employment". Titanic it ain't, but in spite of the decidedly unglamorous setting, it's hard not to smile as these two people fall for each other and the girl asks the boy when he's "gonna get off work".

"We fell in love in a supermarket..."

Martha are very good at the tiny little details, and these elements really help to bring the band's songs (and the characters therein) to life. They charm the listener not by gushing about an epic love that will endure for all time, but by focusing on small acts of affection like giving yourself a stick 'n' poke tattoo in tribute to your partner or holding their hair back as they vomit. In Curly & Raquel, our lonely protagonist falls in love with someone after seeing them spray-paint 'ACAB' on the local village hall.

There are no storybook romances to be found on Blisters, but the little love stories that Martha do offer us feel far more real than any fairy tale. We never find out if that supermarket couple (or any of the other lovers mentioned here) get a happily-ever-after ending, but that's not the point - Martha want us to focus on the romance of the moment, rather than what happens in the end.

After all, "nothing is eternal".

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