Track Review: MarthaGunn: Say When

‘A landmark release that shines a light on their musical influences in the most phenomenal way.’  

Re-intro to Martha Gunn
Since grabbing the attention of Listen to Discover back in April 2019 via ‘St Cecilia’, MarthaGunn have continued to be featured on numerous playlists across the site but, for a few reasons only that aforementioned track has received full coverage. So, with them announcing their new EP last week, I knew it was the perfect time to write about them once again. Comprised of four tracks, ‘Caught Up and Confused’ sees the band bring together ‘It’s Over’, ‘We Don’t Need Each Other’ and the EP’s namesake and place another truly phenomenal track among them. Standing incredible strong on its own, while completing the musically powerful, lyrically insightful journey started by the others, ‘Say When’ delivers in every aspect.    

Track Review
Projecting into our ears, a polyrhythmic combination of heartbeat like kick drum, decorative tom-tom fills, distant bass and strummed guitar ensures this latest track by MarthaGunn instantly lives up to expectation. Infused with inferred energy and captivating power, it’s an introduction that perfectly balances a pull-no-punches approach while keeping things on the more restrained side. Equally, with effect-embellished vocals emulating a ringing variation of the underlying chords, it already delivers an incredible amount.

Hitting the first verse, with the instrumental elements now established they slip seamlessly into a new role of accompanying singer-songwriter Abi Woodman. As is always the case, the vocals she offers here work so wonderfully with the surroundings. Sometimes you will hear tracks where the vocal tone doesn’t seem to entirely ‘work’ among what else is happening. This, as I’m sure you’ll understand, doesn’t mean that those tracks are more or less successful, it’s just a stylistic choice. But here, down to Abi’s tone, her quality of projection and what I will affectionately term ‘MarthaGunn musicality’ it’s quite different.

Initially working as we would expect – that of being centre stage and well above everything else – we experience every single word within the lyrics with little effort required from us. And for that alone, it’s incredibly enjoyable. However, moving through the vocal role begins to shift and here comes the difference. Growing in the background, the beautifully pushing sound of the accompaniment begins to take on greater textural and dynamic dominance while the vocal maintains. This, you would imagine, would result in the lyricism getting overpowered, the vocal getting lost and us missing out on telling phrases such as ‘Reckless, your heart’. But it does none of this. Instead, it seamlessly becomes part of the setting it was once above while remaining as clear as it already was. There is though, even more to it than just this.

Having developed in such a way, and in keeping with the seamless ‘MarthaGunn musicality’ showcased within ‘Say When’, the transition into the chorus occurs in much the same manner, other than one noticeable change: A greater use of musical emphasis. Setting up the most infectious of sensations, on the arrival of the title lyrics everything works in synchronicity with the words ‘Say When.’  Occurring here for the first, but by far not the only time in the track, it’s without doubt an earwormy, statement-like sign post. However, having built so wonderfully into it, it doesn’t feel out of place one bit. In fact, it soon feels like it’s completely at home.

Alternating with the momentum-inducing, yet relaxed atmosphere to this point, the switching of settings, emphasis and lyricism blend wonderfully while allowing us to appreciate the success of each one. In isolation, these changes make an incredibly strong, incredibly musical point, but combined together the result is a landmark sound that sings of their influences in the clearest way to date. Equally, once we have travelled through the second verse – where the most beautiful blending of guitar centred harmonies and percussive accents can be heard – and the powerful chorus, where these become even stronger, we feel like we have also travelled back in time.

Headed up by the line ‘I’ll separate myself from you but I don’t want to be alone’ there’s no doubt that the lyrical intent has changed from impassioned power to softer reflection. However, further showcasing that theme of Abi’s vocals being part of the sound while rising above, the modulating and initially reduced content underneath perfectly matches what is happening elsewhere. Where the lyrics occur, each instrumental feature accompanies in a controlled, yet powerful manner. Where they do not, guitar lines surge through then dissipate allowing the vocals to return. And where percussive accents provide drama, it is delicate and refined. To say the combined sound is sublime doesn’t really get close to just how good it actually is. However, when I say to you that it honestly feels like you’re hearing a golden-age Fleetwood Mac release, you’ll know how good it sounds straight away.  

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Find out more about MarthaGunn on: Track Review: MarthaGunn: St Cecilia


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