Made up of most of the members of ONSIND and Fashanu, you could call Martha Durham’s first ever punk rock supergroup if that wasn’t such a ridiculously grandiose term for what’s on offer. In fact, Martha seems, if anything, deliberately non-super and purposefully low-key. Where both Fashanu and ONSIND are perhaps best known for their political rhetoric as much as their catchy tunes, with the former’s vegan and the latter’s feminist beliefs at the core of their message, the coalition’s efforts seem more focused on being a little more subtle and basically just telling some stories.
A good chunk of the five songs are about historical figures or events: ‘1978, Smiling Politely’ is a fictionalized account of poet Audre Lorde’s journey south to her parents’ home in the Caribbean, where she spent her final days, whereas ‘1848, Yawning Discreetly’ is the story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the same Seneca Falls convention that The Distillers wrote that song about, an event demanding civil, social and political rights for women. Both of these, particularly ‘1848…’, feel like familiar territory, with the typically privilege-challenging lyrics that ONSIND are known for driving the song’s message. ‘Gretna Green’, on the other hand, is a song about the 1915 Quintinshill Rail Disaster, and while it opens with more patriarchy-smashing lines, things soon determinedly departs from them. “I packed my bags and left my politics in bed,” sings the narrator at the end of the first verse, and with “I waited on the platform with your smile stuck in my head,” it suddenly becomes an utterly tragic love song.
‘Standing Where It All Began’ namechecks Hemingway, but is mostly focused on introspection, and ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Connor (Part 1)’ appears to be an entirely fictional story that nonetheless hits pretty close to home with the everyperson protagonist struggling under the grind of life in general. It’s a curious mixed bag of topics, less direct and much more subtle than the work in their main bands. It could be because there’s no particular unifying message here, no axe to grind, instead feeling like more personal explorations around a loose theme, perhaps exploring something they felt they couldn’t in the framework of their other bands. It’s certainly interesting to hear a different side to the songwriters, with ONSIND being perhaps a little less serious and Fashanu certainly a little moreso.
Oh, yeah, what does it actually sound like? Well, there’s none of ONSIND’s acoustic folking, instead being closer to Fashanu’s bouncy pop punk stylings, with hints of a Lemonheads-style indie rock sound. The band describe themselves as ‘powerpop’ and, whilst things are catchy, bouncy and poppy, this is far from a slick affair, with D.I.Y. production giving things a distinctly lo-fi fuzz around the edges. Basically if you’re a fan of ONSIND or Fashanu, you’re probably gonna like this too. It’s pretty similar, but different enough to be an interesting listen. However, it also feels unfair to judge Martha solely in the terms of the member’s other bands, no matter how hard it is to disassociate them from previous efforts. Martha’s self-titled debut is certainly a great EP in its own right, with sixteen minutes of thought-provoking storytelling masked behind some infectiously catchy tunes and, given that it’s a free download, you’d be a bit silly not to check it out. So get on it, yeah?