Billie Marten has been on our radar since 2014, when she came to the fore with the beautiful Ribbon, at the age of just fifteen. In the years since, the Yorkshire singer-songwriter has been honing her craft, with a flurry of EP’s, headed by the release of debut record Writing Of Blues And Yellows in 2016.
Two and a half years have past since that release, but it is credit to Marten that she has taken that time to work on her sophomore record, which comes today in the form of Feeding Seahorses By Hand. Still only nineteen years old, she has worked through a busy and life-affirming period for any teenager, with Marten juggling writing, touring and recording, with the tumultuous task of studying for A-Levels, moving to London and inevitably finding her way as a young adult. These years may have been a test for Marten, but she has clearly found the time to take in the world around her as well. Feeding Seahorses By Hand displays an artist with an honest, frank and mature view on the state of the planet and the people in it.
Take her latest single and album-opener ‘Cartoon People’, a track that offers a fictional appraisal of Donald Trump from the perspective of his daughter. It is a magnificent piece, displaying a combination of wit and frustration, behind a soundscape of ethereal and innocent melody. The likes of ‘Betsy’ continues this clever approach, poking fun at unnamed politicians. Lyrics such as “Now are you proud? / Take a generational bow / Are you calling out?” are almost whispered on top of a soft yet steady beat. Marten makes her point clearly and resolutely without the need to scream or shout. An approach many could do with taking in this whirlwind time.
In addition to these vaster-sounding, more fleshed-out tracks, Marten has maintained and in fact strengthened her ability to write beautiful, delicate and deeply emotional songs. The likes of ‘Toulouse’ and ‘Vanilla Baby’ find the singer at her most intimate, whilst album closer ‘Fish’ is a truly gorgeous track, allowing the listener to blissfully sit back and appreciate the true craftsmanship behind this sensational record.
The songs that feature on the new album were originally written more as bursts of energy in journal form over anything else, before being recorded in an intense two week period spent at producer Ethan John’s house in Bath. This approach has led to a rough but immersive quality, one that Marten and John were clearly aiming for, and one that has worked a treat. It is a testament to the two of them how natural this record feels, with the subtle additions of synths and choral vocals, for example, never taking the limelight over Marten’s glorious vocals and guitar playing.
Marten has even highlighted a number of more experimental additions, ranging from the sound of creaky closing doors in Ethan John’s home, to spooky children’s toys playing a distorted ‘Happy Birthday’ in an echo chamber, hiding in the devastatingly stunning ‘She Dances’. Its an approach that signifies an increase in confidence and maturity in both her writing and recording style.
Feeding Seahorses By Hand is a quite wonderful second-album, presenting a perfect blend of raw and minimalist tracks with a more developed, mature and experimental approach. It is a record that indicates a very bright future for Marten, and a curiosity into what is to come next from this young, exciting British talent.