‘Sunday Best’ is a first-rate first album from Martha Ffion.
It’s been cold and wintry for what now feels like weeks. If you’re also feeling frozen to your core, I have the ultimate winter warmer for you in the shape of Martha Ffion’s eagerly awaited debut album ‘Sunday Best’ (released on 9th March via Turnstile Music).
Coming from a Catholic upbringing in Warrenpoint – a small town in Northern Ireland – and now based in Glasgow, Claire McKay (Martha and Ffion are her middle names) has already delighted listeners with last year’s ‘Trip’ EP and wowed audiences with both full band shows and stripped-back acoustic sets. Recorded with her full live band by Jamie Savage at Glasgow’s Chem 19 Studio (King Creosote, The Twilight Sad, Emma Pollock), ‘Sunday Best’ dresses up some of her early lo-fi recordings, as well as introducing more recent compositions.
‘Sunday Best’ is full of addictive guitar pop alongside swooning and wistful-sounding ballads and all are led by Martha Ffion’s staggeringly beautiful vocals. Her dulcet tones carry words that reflect upon the sometimes stark differences we all experience between the dreams for our futures and the reality of daily life, but also offer a constant sense of hope for what is to come. Much depends on how you read the vagueness of some of her lyrics, but this is a very human album – she looks at life’s complexities with honesty, warmth and sometimes a sharp tongue.
Album opener ‘Missing You’ is a guitar ballad that shows off Martha Ffion’s honeyed voice, and that sharp tongue, with cutting lyrics of frustration – “Missing you, like I’m supposed to” – reminding me of Glasgow-based contemporary Siobhan Wilson. The dreamy pop of ‘Real Love’ questions the facade of true love to a ticking beat, before the swing and sway of ‘Take Your Name’ finds her expressing doubts in the strength of an offer of marriage – “I know that you want me. Do you really need me for life?”. On ‘Punch-Drunk’ this doubt escalates to already broken promises over an echoing riff, as she admits that her lover will only commit to being sober when she tries to end the relationship. She relents with “I’ll carry you home one more time and then it’s over”.
‘Record Sleeves’ seems to reflect on a relationship where she is the dependable one – “If you ever need me, ask and you shall receive” – that is failed by another. ‘No Applause’, with its distorted riff and crashing drums underpinning her stunning voice, is a pop-rock track to get you dancing while Martha Ffion confesses “I found out what I wanted had changed forevermore”.
As well as its self-confessed nod to Catholic guilt, the title of her debut implies that much of what we strive for and the anxieties that surround us relate to how others perceive us – we want to appear to be putting on our best show at all times and in all areas of our lives. In the waltzing chorus of ‘We Make Do’, she pleads “Just please, tell me I’m good” while acknowledging that “There’s no shame in facing every day with an overwhelming sense of making do”. With its cute piano melody and whistling, there is a youthful innocence in the delivery of this track but the words are worldly-wise.
On ‘Sunday Best’ Martha Ffion manages to combine surf, dream-pop, country and rock without appearing unfocused and uses retro stylings whilst remaining wonderfully fresh. For your reference I could give you a host of artists that I can hear hints of in these songs – Honeyblood, Camera Obscura, Alvvays, Best Coast, The Shangri-Las, Belle and Sebastian – but ‘Sunday Best’ is a unique experience.
This album becomes more vital with each listen. Like the comfort of a book that you’ve read time and time before but can’t put down, this is a record that demands to be played again and again. I can guarantee there are even better things to come from Martha Ffion but, for now, this is simply songwriting at its best.