Miro Denck

There are albums that instantly grab the listener and ‘Close to Close’ is one of those. It is in part due to Martha Rose’s voice which is front and centre of the mix, given no hiding place and exuding vulnerability. The music is also beguiling. Working with producer E.T. to utilise sampled voices, water, flutes, and breathy synth sounds, it is an experimental approach that still places a firm emphasis upon songs. The stated influences on the album come from the music of Daniel Johnston, Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins, together with literature, childhood memories, fairy tales and DJ sets at Berlin hangouts. The influence of Johnston is particularly apparent in the upfront vocals and the exposed quality of the voice and emotions expressed.

Love is an overarching theme on the album ‘s eleven songs. ‘Gateway Drug’ has the air of something from the soundtrack to ‘Twin Peaks’, simultaneously soothing and eery as she confesses to being a gateway drug to love “always one before the one never quite enough.” There is a gauche precariousness to the song.

To drumbeat samples that leave her voice sounding exposed, ‘The Love In Your Heart’ has her suggesting, “I’m not real, and you would never love me the way I need, just like in the stories.” Representing a giant leap ahead, ‘Heart Still Beats 4 You’ conjures a 1980s glitterball with its glorious synth pop joy and steel drum sounds. Spoken word voiceovers can feel cheesy or sincere and the opening section of this track falls into the latter camp. It is such a superb pop song that in another era, given the right backing, it could have been a massive hit.

‘Bleu’ has Rose comparing herself to Julie in the film ‘Three Colours Blue’. The track utilises spoken word to synth backing a style that makes the artist sound more vulnerable than if they were singing, ending in the enticing recognition, “the only way out is to eat another ice cream with espresso and give up everything.”

‘The Same Feeling’ develops darker themes of night-time glamour and danger while the slight imperfections of her voice add to the emotional weight and threat of the song. ‘I Love It All’ marks a return to spoken word in its reverie for past times, initially accompanied by sparse synths before mournful strings take over.

‘September’ is a thing of fragile beauty, Rose’s voice up close and personal, given minimalist backing, in a song suggesting promises broken. There is an Eastern air to the arrangement of ‘Never Love Enough’ while the lyric ponders whether the subject can ever be worthy of the lover’s devotion. Dandy Deniz’s gently strummed folk guitar gives a different tone to ‘Chin Up’, a tale of remaining positive in the face of rejection. The instrumental, ‘Reflective Hands’, produces a mood reminiscent of Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s ‘Keyboard Fantasies’, a combination of delicacy, futurism and fantasia. The album reaches its conclusion with ‘Eurydice’, another visit to the dancefloor, using the figure from Greek mythology to reflect on love.

It completes an album that is incredibly attractive due to its bracing honesty together with an approach that swings from pure pop through to bewitching minimalism.

Martha Rose: Close to Close – Out 31st May 2024 (Mansions and Millions)

Rose – Heart Still Beats 4 U (youtube.com)

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.