Martha Brown goes from Charli XCX band member to pop singer on her debut, tackling intergenerational trauma and the painful path to self-understanding with a melodic bubblegum sound.
Before she played synths for Charli XCX on Taylor Swift’s 2018 Reputation tour, Martha Brown was failing to get by in Los Angeles as a musician transplanted from Melbourne. Her career-aiding spot in Charli’s band saved her from moving home, and she used what she earned from the tour to finance her debut LP, Look At Us Now Dad. Although the title might evoke the image of a daughter beaming with pride at having made it, Brown, who performs as Banoffee, actually uses parts of her debut to examine deeper concepts, like intergenerational trauma and the painful path to self-understanding.
Enlisting features from electro-pop singer Empress Of and rapper CupcakKe, Brown aims for a melodic bubblegum pop sound with industrial undertones—a well-established trend in queer music. On “Chevron,” a downtempo lament sung at rock bottom, she asks the album’s persistent questions: “What am I doing? Why am I here?” The song arrives at the album’s midpoint, rejecting an easy redemptive arc in favor of a steady landscape of ups and downs. To her credit, Banoffee never settles on answers to those questions but never gives up the pursuit of them, either.
The interludes “I Lied” and “I Let You Down” offer a graceful view into the album’s focus on reconciliation—with relationships, with the self, and with the past. Bookending the album, they contain the same lyrics: Banoffee sings about lying to a dying loved one, telling them that she’s doing well in an effort to spare them worry. While “I Lied” introduces deception into Banoffee’s role as a narrator, “I Let You Down” reframes her lies as promises to herself. Over synths that buzz like insects circling a light, she allows herself the possibility that one day those lies might become truth.
On the album’s second half, Banoffee probes the connection between her own psychological battles and her father’s, whose tumultuous childhood included a forced separation from his alcoholic parents. “Permission” is an intensely Auto-Tuned account of assault, and Banoffee’s quivering voice rises to a broken yell as she flips perspectives from perpetrator to victim. “I was young and never wanted/To touch a man or be a woman.” Despite the cyborgian vocals, the song has a shuddering, human ache, taking a cue from similarly produced tracks on Charli XCX’s Pop 2 mixtape like “Backseat” and “Lucky.”
On the closing title track, she attempts to wind her own emotional experiences together with her father’s. The song, the longest on the album, addresses her father directly as well as the suffering he inherited: “What was theirs is yours, and now it’s mine.” The placement implies closure, as if the song proves that there’s some new way forward for the two of them. Instead, it introduces the album’s most interesting material right at the end. If she had threaded it more steadily throughout, the album would have been a more keen statement than the respectable pop offering that it is.
Buy: Rough Trade
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