Alessi’s Ark: The Still Life – album review
Alessi’s Ark – The Still Life (Bella Union)
CD / DL
Last month Bella Union released the latest album from 22-year-old Alessi Laurent-Marke in her Alessi’s Ark name. It’s full of vocal exploration and complex soundscapes that together make The Still Life both interesting and very listenable.
At just 22, Alessi Laurent-Marke is wise beyond her years, something marked by the mature sound and vision of her musical project Alessi’s Ark’s latest album ‘The Still Life’. Taking a theme of finding peace in the stillness of life, the album takes the listener on a musical journey almost in contrast with the theme of the lyrics.
The first track, ‘Tin Smithing’, features percussion which feels relevant to the title in a way which both blends and contrasts with Alessi’s unusual, sugary vocals. It is refreshing to hear an artist who sings in a way slightly different to other female artists, exploring the ranges and limits of her voice. It is in places almost childlike, often drifting from a mature start to a quieter finish. Laurent-Marke is definitely playing to her vocal strengths with the songs she writes and the effect is really pleasing.
‘Veins Are Blue’ sounds dreamy, almost Californian in nature. “You can’t hold me down” sings Alessi, a lucid lyric which stands out against the summery backdrop of electric guitars. Laurent-Marke wanted to get away from playing her acoustic guitar on this album and she achieves it well, particularly in ‘The Rain’, which is surprisingly electronic and somehow creates an almost animalistic soundscape which backdrops Alessi’s simple lyrics excellently. There is little complexity to many of her lyrics, but they are almost never derivative, and they always work perfectly against the more complicated musical accompaniment and harmonisation.
‘The Good Song’ returns to a slightly more familiar acoustic sound, which is carried over into ‘The Big Dipper’ which is a stand out track of the album, conjuring pictures of pretty gardens and impassioned pleas to those from the past.
‘Afraid of Everyone’ snaps you back from the dream-like beginning of the album. Starting acapella with some gorgeous self-harmonisation, it tackles issues of mental health in both a bold and gentle way. “I don’t have the drugs to sort this out” Alessi intones, before wondering how to stop hurting the people she loves. Even for those who haven’t experienced anxiety this song is relatable, and with percussion that builds to almost tribal levels it is a track which sticks in the brain and subconsciously requests repeat listens.
‘Sans Balance’ uses a mixture of French and English, giving an air of mysticism to the song that fits really well with the lovely backing vocals that feature within it. ‘Hands in the Sink’ is an altogether more English affair, again tapping into the theme of standing still, although here we get to explore the ruminations of rambling thought processes whilst staying physically in one place. With the theme of stillness comes a theme of missing people and a slight melancholy, perhaps experienced by Laurent-Marke during her extensive touring.
‘Money’ is perhaps the weakest track of the album, wasting a great piece of jazzy piano with clichéd and mildly irritating lyrics. However, it is always best not to dwell, and you can’t dwell long with ‘Pinewoods’ bringing the album to a pleasant and prettily metaphoric end.
Laurent-Marke’s storytelling skills are shown strongly throughout the album and her aim to bring the listener a sense of peace is definitely achieved.
My only real complaint, although really it is more of a compliment, is the shortness of the songs, with no track reaching above 3 minutes 30 seconds throughout. I felt like I wanted to hear more of each of the songs, there is a loveliness that intrigues and leaves you wanting more.
The soundscapes, the harmonisation and the range of instruments and percussion on this album move Alessi ahead of her previous work, displaying the fruits of her explorations. She may be young, but there is wisdom in the lyric “Whatever makes you happy is what you supposed to do”. I get the feeling that was written from the heart.