Billie Marten once said her youth was “the worst thing” about her. Society’s obsession with age, especially in the context of art, can be something of a poisoned chalice. Early articles about the singer-songwriter focused her supposedly ‘precocious’ talent, and in a statement accompanying this album, she speaks about having previously concealed herself in her music and being “obsessed with what people thought of me”. Confidence and clarity has come with age – and with it her biggest, boldest music.
Marten’s third album ‘Flora Fauna’ is a collection of songs that acknowledge the need to weed-out toxic behaviours, using metaphors in nature to nod to both her imperfections and personal growth or humankind’s precariousness. All this is soundtracked, largely, by a departure from the pretty but safe acoustic sound of her 2016 debut ‘Writing Of Blues And Yellows’ and its 2019 follow-up ‘Feeding Seahorses By Hand’. Marten learned bass and listened to lots of Krautrock around this record; the melodies here are her most moreish, her stories are her most open and experimentation is at its broadest.
‘Ruin’ sees Marten ruminate on her tendency to self-destruct (“Got a war with my body”). She illustrates the conflict of being cognisant of that but proceeding anyway (“I’ve been committing a crime”) by shifting from springy beats and bass on the verses to sharp, darting guitars and kinetic drums on the chorus. These beat switches course through the album elsewhere. It’s a welcome refresh of her songwriting.
On ‘Garden Of Eden’, Marten sings about nature as a tonic to modern-day overwork (“Eat the sun, and water up”), while ‘Ruin’’s chorus houses looser beats and more joyful tones, unfurling like a flower in a garden where she’s ready to “feel alive” again.
As with the sitar-spun knots of ‘Heaven’, ‘Human Replacement’ sees Marten push for more curious sounds amid themes of women’s safety and religious faith. A noodling bassline, paired with kitchen pot percussion and Marten’s unnerving, spoken word-esque delivery introduces ‘Human Replacement’’s tale of feeling “not safe in the evening” because “you could be taken”. Jabbing piano chords and screeching strings make for an explosive chorus: a clarion call for every woman’s right to be left alone when out at night.
On ‘Flora Fauna’, Marten navigates a newfound confidence while examining what it takes to survive and thrive. It’s her most mature, vivid work yet – and would be impressive from an artist of any age.
Release date: May 21
Record label: Fiction Records