Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Ian Grimble and Richard Matthews of Communion Music at 2KHz, Crouch End, London
London's Marthas & Arthurs make me think about an article I read in the New York Times this morning about paper wasps. The piece begins with the author wondering what the hell wasps were for and why they needed to be here at all. Why couldn't they all just die and go away if they were only here to fly around and sting. Some recent research by scientists found that wasps were imperative to fermentation of wine and beer. They are essentially storage units of the all-important yeast needed to turn certain concoctions alcoholic. For a long time, scientists were perplexed by where some strands of yeast came from, or more importantly, how they got to certain places - for instance grapes are typically covered in a high concentration of yeast. These paper wasps store many different strains of yeast in their guts over the winter months and more, delivering them as they do, when the timing is right. The author closes by admonishing his 10-year-old self for throwing rocks at wasp hives. Had he known any better, he would have left those poor things alone so that they could one day assist in making the booze that he'd grow to love so much.
We think about wasps today, as Marthas & Arthurs think about flies and bees. They are swarming around everything in the song, "Barbaraosophy," and it feels like an epidemic, as if something horrible is dead and they're just gathering to feast, but it also feels like a warm wave spilling out of the ocean, onto the sand and the castle wreckage. What I'm trying to say is that swarms of flies or swarms of wasps aren't of themselves anything we'd like to see around, but like the scientists have done - reminding us that our beer and wine come from somewhere we hadn't thought about before - Marthas & Arthurs remind us that there might be hidden messages or glints of reason in anything that's out of the ordinary.
Tom Ball, Esther Ball, Mary Douglas-Home and Matt Hart harmonize with each other exceptionally well, building swells of energy that need very little to glow, exposing human weaknesses in ways that make them feel more like attributes. They sing, "I see apes in the aeroplanes/And fish in the trees/When all is said and done/Who will marry me?" and what comes across as a dream that's still wound up is sad-sack central, there's little pity or agony in the temperament of those singing. It's just dealing with some disadvantage. Lots of people have it much worse. At least there are pilot apes and climbing fish to watch as their characters deal with the thought of being old maids or bachelors for life. They'll just keep wishing upon the city lights, gathering by the little fires that they make for themselves. They'll watch the wasps and the flies carry themselves where they will as they tip another drink.
Marthas & Arthurs Official Site