Billie Marten – ‘Flora Fauna’ review: songwriting blooms with confidence and clarity

The artist's work has often been couched in terms of her 'precocious' talent, but this experimental third record would be impressive from any musician

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.

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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.

Details

Release date: May 21

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Record label: Fiction Records

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