When I think of Alessi’s Ark, I think of a music industry veteran – someone who has been releasing critically acclaimed, beautiful, unpretentious folk music for a good few years. Surely Alessi Laurent-Marke must be in her 30s by now, with a voice like that and an arsenal of tortured, devastating, witty songs about loving, being loved and watching love? No. She’s 22. Gah.
Her new album The Still Life is really nothing of the sort; it’s a record of constantly changing pace and movement. There is calm, but it links arms effortlessly with the intense, mechanical rhythm of Tin Smithing, or the jolly, bluesy bass of Money. The tracks are confidently brief; aside from Pinewoods and The Waves where notes sometimes last an eternity and repetition begins to grate, there is no faff or time-wasting. Each offers new mind pictures, all sewn together by Laurent-Marke’s uncompromisingly crisp vocal, a knack for touchingly simple lyrics and a sympathetic, understated accompaniment.
The songs veer between a pride in, but really a desire for, fierce independence, and a complete focus on somebody else. The somebody else in question is not a terrible person or total nutjob as they often are: they’re admirable as we learn in The Good Song, treasured in The Waves and the one that got away in Hands In The Sink. Be prepared for an emotional gutting in this last one; you’d think that believably depicting domestic mundanity and the associated frustrated longing would be too tall an order for anyone, let alone a 22-year-old, wouldn’t you? Not so.
The album’s crowning glory is Sans Balance. For me at least, this song really is something special, definitely a 2013 highlight. The guitar accompaniment lilts and sways beneath a heady, childlike vocal line. It is heart-fluttering from the off, but the harmonies are what set it apart; Laurent-Marke’s own perfectly placed and wonderfully inventive harmonisation is all goosepimpley, and the subtly omnipresent male backing vocals softly cooing a quasi-Gregorian chant are otherworldly. This song alone would make The Still Life a good listen; luckily, the rest of it’s pretty excellent too.