Tamara Parsons-Baker – the Tamara of Tamara And The Martyrs – has been amongst the Oxford music scene for a while now, taking part as both musician and organiser in no end of gigs, open mics and events. This seems to have created an inherent confidence and resulted in no small mark of quality in the songs and delivery throughout Girl Jokes About Boy Parts‘ eleven tracks; and the musicians that make up the Martyrs – Humphrey Astley, Tommy Longfellow and Tom Sharp – themselves have a fearsome prior experience (taking in Sextodecimo, Smilex, The Epstein and more).
As a debut album, this isn’t the sound of a group falling back on their previous achivements, however. Despite the artwork and album title suggesting a certain jokiness or dour kitchen sink attitude, there seems a healthy amount of passion and willingness to stretch themselves at play here; although Parsons-Baker’s voice is to the fore for the majority of the album, and it tends towards an indie-blues path of consistency, there are enough pointers to energy and experiment on display to keep things vibrant.
So, we have songs like ‘Come And Get Me’, ‘Real Bad Lover’ and ‘Billboards’, binding a strong, rich and flexible vocal style to a type of blues-inflected guitar rock that’s reminiscent of PJ Harvey or the grunge angle that led to Jeff Buckley. They’re interspersed with more delicate work like ‘I Stuck It Out’ (here presented in two forms, one a choral treatment recorded at Brasenose Chapel) and ‘Hang My Picture’, which are an opportunity for a softer sound – no less compos mentis, but like a reflection of the anger that seems otherwise present.
In the waltzing rhythms of ‘Charon’s Boat’, the beautifully-constructed and superbly played guitar squall of ‘Pay Day Slag’ or the swinging-porch-seat r’n’b of ‘Thinkin’ On A Problem’, it’s easy to hear a band that’s stretching itself and trying things outside of a comfort zone it’d be all to easy to settle into. These moments are highlights in an already impressive set of songs – a fine debut that hints at great developments to follow.