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Martha’s ‘Love Keeps Kicking’ upstream

| Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

Culture favors the futurist, the sample-heavy synth pop, spliced together post-modern masterpieces of poetic beauty and electronic grace. The charts — and the internet news feeds — rise and fall in response to the dexterity of the musically inclined computer wiz, master of software, producer extraordinaire. Guitars, tube amps, lovelorn feelings. These are nothing more than stone age articles, the components of “Dinosaur rock.” To plug in, to distort, to crank to 11 is to relegate oneself to the unrecoverable past.

These elements of the contemporary musical landscape (most of them good, evolved to progress aural creativity) bear down on a band like Martha. The combo, a four-piece from the aptly named town of Pity Me in County Durham, England, specialize in hyper lyrical, high octane indie punk. It’s melodic guitar rock (think The Ramones, The Clash) and (according to most metrics) woefully out of style. After two LPs — 2014’s adolescent fever dream “Courting Strong” and 2016’s power pop opus “Blisters in the Pit of My Heart” — one thing is clear: Martha writes some brilliant f—— songs. Their inebriated compositions (somewhat irrelevantly) inject a Beatle-esque penchant for structure and harmony with the lyrical sensibilities of a musically inclined cult novelist (e.g. Ottessa Moshfegh, Anna Burns) — a melodramatic love letter to the British indie kid circa 1986. But, in 2019, Martha’s exquisite escapades amount to nothing more than old and somber pines falling in a forest with no one around to listen.

Too bad, really. It’s a shame to think that Martha’s latest full-length effort — “Love Keeps Kicking” — will sing its heartfelt melodies into the void. While not necessarily timely, “Love Keeps Kicking” (a jaunty, straight-forward guitar pop outing) offers up something we (a jaded collection of sincerity starved screen rats) so desperately need: positivity.

Signs suggest that Millennials and Gen Zers are at risks of falling into the tracks of their Gen X predecessors — prone to lean into self-aware, self-obsessed post-modern antics as protection against the increasing complexity of the connected world. The younger among us don’t want to face the pain. They want to divert it, dull it via submersion in the JavaScript subspace. Facing such pain (much of it existential in nature) seems an insufferable and, at the end of the day, untenable path. Why bother?

Because “Love Keeps Kicking,” Martha shouts. Maybe “love keeps kicking the s— out of [you], and there’s no solution [you] can see,” but the bruises, taken in stride, will heal. “It takes a lifetime,” you whine, “to begin to forget.” “I don’t think I’m ready,” you say. “I don’t think I’m ready.” But these sentiments merely masquerade as self-preservation, when, in reality, they are the sadistic weapons by which self-degradation skewers the indecisive soul.

In this dejected state you are no better than “Mini,” the “preteen arsonist” (“funny and intelligent, charming and so eloquent”) who put his untamed youthful worries in “the flicker of a tiny flame” as he “boarded the train” away from the depressing hamlet (not unlike Pity Me, Durham) where he was born.

Nobody pities the indie kid, nor should they. Guitar rock had its day, but that day has come and past. If you want to find comfort in a well-oiled riff, you’ll have to do so among limited company. Don’t let this phase you. What independent guitar rock lacks in cultural currency it more than makes up for in seductive energy. “Martha’s” most recent take on the genre, in particular, will seduce you as did those old (derivative) “love songs” your parents played you as a child. Maybe “it’s a waste of time” to give yourself over to Martha’s ear candy. Maybe “it’s too late” — for them and you. But you can’t do anything about it. Having heard Martha, you’ve been struck with the “tainted blessing, stubborn curse” of a combo who does nothing more than speak (and play) their outdated minds.

Artist: Martha

Album: “Love Keeps Kicking”

Label: Big Scary Monsters / Dirtnap Records

Tracks: “The Only Letter That You Kept,” “Love Keeps Kicking,” “Heart is Healing”

If you like: Radiator Hospital, Cayetana, Remember Sports

3.5 out of 5 Shamrocks

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