You stood beside my till
I said, “Retail is the pits.”
And then, I scanned your anxiety pills
“We trace our punk lineage back to Crass (as opposed to The Clash), but even Crass was selling thousands of records in their day.” This a telling distinction on how Martha views itself when the spectrum of rock & roll. To punk true-believers, the distinction between Crass and The Clash couldn’t be more clear, the latter traded in ears-to-the-street awareness and balls-in-your-face aggression for lame, boomer rock-star glitz, an opinion that carries on to this day. (R&R icons like Iggy Pop made similiar criticisms of the group but for entirely opposite reasons than Martha)
This is, of course, nonsense. The songwriting panache of Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Topper was bound for superstardom subject matter regardless. Ultimately, punk rock was, has been, and continues to be aesthetic above all -no matter if it’s six months into the future or ten (or twenty or thirty) years into the past- despite the constant, consistent debate over its validity as a perspective, movement, lifestyle or otherwise. However, these DIY lifers intend on jamming econo, documenting the process along the way and doing with a style and panache all their own.
Like their American counterparts, Sheer Mag, these DIY lifers sublimate their concerns about life during late-stage capitalism with buoyant melodies and uptempo rhythms. And, boy, they sure are concerned with a lot. Martha talks a big game about their values and is intent on showing that they’re keen on walking the walk. Their mission statement? Defying a “top-down model of culture”, an achievable goal, if one that will likely land them in mountains of debt. They ought to be applauded for the effort though.
Another important distinction to make: Martha is a punk band that writes pop songs. Not a pop-punk group. This is most clear in the charming, raw, uncompressed production which favors natural acoustic dynamics over digital hyper-compression favored by today’s pop-punkers. Their music, and the collaborative method of how they produce it, most resembles mid-90s indie sweethearts Superchunk.
Precarious (Supermarket Song) is a prime nugget and entry-point into their already impressive back catalog. Drums and bass lock into a solid groove, allowing the guitars to adopt a bouncing, jaunty riff in between change-off mixed vocals. The melody is sturdy enough to ground the occasional rhythmic shift. However, the lyric booklet is where Martha shows its elite skill, the one that separates them from the legions of punk bands with strong pop sensibilities. From one perspective, it’s a clear send-up of the everyday doldrums of working an all-consuming retail job. From another, it’s about finally asking out that cutie at the shop. Martha positions clear, direct storytelling with a strong eye for narrative detail alongside its heady sociopolitical commentary. Somehow, they get through this weighty material without calling attention to itself, this song could very well be enjoyed for the melody alone. Their gift is turning the intimate into the anthemic, of making the personal cinematic, all without sagging into generic platitudes or, worse, judgemental value scolding.
When will the tide turn against Martha? They’re on an upswing now and hopefully, they gain enough momentum to break through to the next level. Naysayers shouldn’t hold it against(!) them when they do
Sidenote: Did they name their band after the community/secondhand clothes shop they dance in front of in this video?
RIYL: Prime-era Superchunk, Archers Of Loaf, killing-time-at-your-dead-end-job