“About Insomnia” b/w “1 4 6”
DinDisc Records DIN 19 (UK)
Released on July 4, 1980
Produced by Mike Howlett

Things were moving rapidly for Martha and the Muffins by June 1980. Metro Music had spent six weeks in the UK album charts, so the Muffins’ label DinDisc/Virgin were preparing the debut album’s global release and readying the band to record a second album. Meanwhile, the band played some shows back home in Ontario, Canada; Martha Ladly graduated from the Ontario College of Art; and plans were afoot for the band to resume playing around the UK by the end of July, including a leg supporting Roxy Music’s Flesh + Blood tour. The album that became Trance and Dance would draw on old material that the band didn’t work up for the first album plus add a few new compositions — including “About Insomnia,” which was the first Martha and the Muffins single of post-Metro Music material. Recorded at Virgin’s Townhouse Studios in Shepherd’s Bush, London, “About Insomnia” is likely the only DinDisc recording that the original six-piece lineup didn’t make at Virgin’s countryside studios, the Manor. That suggests it was recorded either during the band’s stint touring the UK and western Europe in late April and early May, or in a quick visit afterward.

The a-side of this single is the album version that appears on Trance and Dance. A Mark Gane/Martha Ladly co-write about the restlessness of unrequited love, “About Insomnia” is a sophisticated if conventional work of melodic pop composition. It might well be regarded as ‘chamber pop’ today, Tim Gane’s new wave backbeat notwithstanding. Ladly and Gane neatly double each other’s arpeggios on wurlitzer organ and guitar; a bridge introduces an affecting modulation; Andy Haas has a pair of lovely solos that land on different variants of previous sections; and the band genuinely soars on the fitting, final lyric, “My nocturnal musings don wings and take flight.” “About Insomnia” has compelling melody for days but no real hooks to speak of; it probably didn’t help the song’s chances on UK radio that Martha Johnson never once utters the title phrase but does sing some lines in French.

The b-side, “1 4 6,” is a lengthy instrumental credited to all six band members and an unbridled work of art school music. Propelled along a tub-thumping rhythm (which bears a strong resemblance to Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People”), keyboard noises, saxophone squawks, guitar skronk, pitched vocals, and trombone rotate in and out above a tuneless bassline to compete for the listener’s attention. In my opinion, this is the weakest of all the Martha and the Muffins b-sides, but the band would quickly become more effective and (importantly) more concise in recording this kind of experimental music. (“1 4 6” is preserved for posterity on the expanded 2013 CD reissue of Trance and Dance.)

By the standards of DinDisc’s hopes for “another Echo Beach,” “About Insomnia” was a flop. Yet today, the a-side makes a strong case for Martha and the Muffins’ resonance with the cerebral melodicism of certain recent indie music, such as late-period Stereolab and Julia Holter. Its studious elegance is visually encapsulated by the Peter Saville design on the sleeve, which the professional association British Design & Art Direction recognized the following year with another jury-winning selection (alongside the one for the Metro Music cover) for Individual Record Sleeve for a Single. With its ample white space and tiny sans-serif font, the sleeve anticipates the cover of This is the Ice Age, Martha and the Muffins’ third album… and we all know of Saville’s penchant for incorporating still lifes of flowers.


The 7″ catalogue:
Martha and the Muffins – “Insect Love” b/w “Suburban Dream” (MM 001)
Martha and the Muffins – “Insect Love” b/w “Cheesies and Gum” (DIN 4)
Martha and the Muffins – “Echo Beach” b/w “Teddy The Dink” (DIN 9)
Martha and the Muffins – “Saigon” b/w “Copacabana” (DIN 17)
Martha and the Muffins – “Paint By Number Heart” b/w “Copacabana” (VS 1115)
Martha and the Muffins – “About Insomnia” b/w “1 4 6” (DIN 19)
Martha and the Muffins – “Suburban Dream” b/w “Girl Fat” (DIN 21)
Martha and the Muffins – “Was Ezo” b/w “Trance And Dance” (DIN 27)
Martha and the Muffins – “Women Around The World at Work” b/w “Twenty-Two in Cincinnati” (DIN 34)
Martha and the Muffins – “One Day in Paris” b/w “Women Around the World at Work”; (104.209)
Martha and the Muffins – “Swimming” b/w “Little Sounds (Excerpts)” (VS 1136)
Martha and the Muffins – “Danseparc (Everyday It’s Tomorrow)” b/w “Whatever Happened to Radio Valve Road” (WAKE 1)
Martha and the Muffins – “World Without Borders” b/w “Boys in the Bushes” (WAKE 2)
Martha and the Muffins – “Several Styles of Blonde Girls Dancing” b/w “I’m No Good at Conversation” (WAKE 4)
M+M – “Black Stations/White Stations” b/w “Xoa Oho” (WAKE 7)
M+M – “Cooling the Medium” b/w “Big Trees” (WAKE 8)
M+M – “Song In My Head” b/w “Riverine” (WAKE 14)
M+M – “Someone Else’s Shoes” b/w “Million Dollars” (WAKE 16)
M+M – “Only You”; b/w “Watching the Boys Fall Down” (WAKE 18)