The Still Life out 4/30/13 via Bella Union
Travel, adventure and personal revelation mark the new album by singer-songwriter Alessi Laurent–Marke of Alessi’s Ark. The Still Life is a work both lucid and heartbreakingly lovely, a sonic landscape that roams a wide range of emotions, with (as the songwriter explains), “Nature and love, as common threads”.
“I wanted to create a musical landscape that varied in sound,” Laurent-Marke says, “but an overriding feeling of ‘stillness’ remained throughout the album. I also wanted to step back from playing acoustic guitar and immerse the songs in very different sound settings from previous recordings.”
Only a few short years into her career, the London-based Laurent-Marke – who began playing music and launched a fanzine, Brain Bulletin, during her secondary school years in West London – is already prolific: her first, self-released EP, 2007’s Bedroom Bound, garnered the then-teenage artist a major label deal and attention around the globe.
A debut album soon followed, with Laurent-Marke heading to Omaha, Nebraska to record with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, The Faint, Rilo Kiley). The resulting Notes from the Treehouse (EMI/Virgin, 2009) was a testament to both Laurent-Marke’s evolving talents and to her affinity with a new wave of American singer/songwriters.
Her most recent release, 2011’s Time Travel, was praised by the press, with MOJO swooning, “The understated arrangements suggest you’re listening to a woman with impeccable taste…”, and The Washington Post remarking, “The quick-hit nature and variety of styles suggest many pleasant paths for Alessi’s Ark to travel in the future.”
Now only 22, Laurent-Marke continues to explore. The last few years have seen tours through England and across the Continent – supporting artists including Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Villagers, and Laura Veirs – with the young singer backed by a revolving cast of musical collaborators, her own ‘Alessi’s Ark.’ These adventures fueled the creative inspiration for what would become The Still Life.
To record the album, Laurent-Marke returned again to America, to the small town of Athens, Georgia and the studio of producer Andy LeMaster (of Now It’s Overhead), who has worked with everyone from Bright Eyes to The Drive-By Truckers.
“I had heard brilliant things about Andy as a person, from musicians I’d met while recording the first album in Omaha,” says Laurent–Marke, “and I felt extremely fortunate to spend time together and work so closely on this album. He brought some very gifted, beautiful musicians on board and I was moved by their warmth in Athens.”
That warmth is all over The Still Life: in the shimmering production, in the players’ performances and in the slow, sweet syrup sway that underlies all the album tracks. You can hear summer in these songs, almost see the fireflies and the Spanish moss hanging lazy from the oaks.
“The phrase ‘the still life’ has always resonated with me,” says Laurent-Marke of the album’s title. “In my mind ‘The Still Life’ is what we’re all aiming for, the chapter in our lives that we find peace and understanding, within us and in our surroundings.”
That feeling of peace, or the desire for it, threads through each of the album’s tracks. There is a comforting singsong undulation on tracks like “Veins are Blue,” “Mountain,” and “Money”. “The Rain” captures the calm disconnect that comes with travel, the feel of passing landscapes set to the whistle and roll of train tracks rhythms. On songs like The National-cover “Afraid of Everything”, Laurent-Marke goes deliciously dark and deep, embracing a spooky western swing that calls to mind flames licking at black night and low howls at a high moon.
The latter, along with the magical “Sans Balance” (which boasts lyrics in both French and English), are the only two tracks recorded outside of Athens. Enlisting Brit producer Nic Nell in South London, Laurent-Marke’s found a perfect match to LeMaster, two producers creating sound that brings the album together as a united whole.
In the end, The Still Life is Laurent-Marke coming into her own, finding a place at the center of her inspirations that reflects the truest parts of herself. And from the sound of it, that’s a very good place to be.
“I hope that this album is good company for the listener,” says Laurent-Marke, “ I tried to create something that would leave them happy, leave them with a feeling of peace. To me, the best thing an album can be is a friend you can rely on.”