Billie Marten excels at the Writing of Blues and Yellows

Billie Martbillie-marten-writing-blues-yellows-cover-413x413en is a child of the gloaming, the afternoon unspooling behind her. She writes of yellows, certainly, and the blues arrive later; big, inky, blue-black blotches of melancholy that fall and then blossom on fading parchment paper. At her first performance, aged 12, she played a Joanna Newsom song, and then "Doll Parts" by Hole. She adores the amber haze of home, while yearning for the city. By the time "Live" arrives, her paean to an imagined California, an imagined Berlin, an imagined elsewhere wrapped up in home comforts, the only thing left to surprise the listener about Writings of Blues and Yellows is that she sat in one place long enough to learn the piano.

Now at the grand age of 17, Marten already sounds world-weary. "La Lune" opens the album with a skipping-stone touch, setting out her stall as a songwriter who creates quiet, almost ambient textures, so that the minor chords twist like a knife when they arrive. "Bird" takes the template a step further, a brooding string part's vibrato matching the quiver in her voice. As the album progresses, it becomes apparent that the strings are rarely entirely absent, but have the good grace to spend most of their time quietly complementing Marten's guitar and voice, only rushing forward to meet them at the record's stormiest moments.

Occasionally, the pace is allowed to gather into something approaching a jaunt, as on "Milk & Honey", a dig at the world's unfettered consumerism. But mostly, the songs here are stripped for their saddest parts, channeling the spirit of her contemporaries: Blue Roses, Daughter, and, Laura Marling. The temptation to buy into a tortured prodigy narrative here will prove irresistible for some, painting a bruised, teenage heart too pure for this cruel world. Certainly, Marten is honest about her own struggles - there is no lack of candour on "Teeth" ("I'm writing this in a bad way... No one can hear what my head says"), for example.

In truth, whether lionhearted or lying through her teeth, the songwriting never veers into self-pity, and the whole record feels absurdly confident. It's the kind of album audibly crafted by someone who obsesses over colours in art (I empathise entirely), and while she talks of getting lost in greys, and the brief spells of orange that fill her bedroom in the evening, it's always the primary colours that she returns to, both dark and bright. For Billie Marten, the blues are as much a gift to the world as the yellows.

Release: 23rd September 2016, Chess Club Records / RCA


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