There are definite downsides to starting out early in the music business. While it feels safe to say that Alessi Laurent-Marke hasn’t had a monkey confiscated nor endured too many embarrassing paparazzi bust-ups, she does find herself releasing a third album – and thus edging that bit closer to being “established” — at just 22. When artists reach that big old number three, it tends to make us scrutinise songs ever more closely when performers like Laurent-Marke are, in the grand scheme of things, still just starting out. In this case, The Still Life proves an appropriate title for a record which sees Alessi’s Ark more treading water than taking off.
The overriding initial impression is of how much remains unchanged from the previous record, 2011’s Time Travel. Like that effort, The Still Life is extremely brisk, compressing 13 songs into just 32 minutes. Again, there is one cover included, and once more a variety of diverse styles are homogenised to some extent by the production and by Laurent-Marke’s love-it-or-hate-it childlike voice. Especially because of how abruptly opener “Tin Smithing” starts, this album sounds very much like a direct continuation of the last one, two years on.
“Tin Smithing” also represents one of the best examples of the overly concise nature of so many of the songs. Laurent-Marke writes and plays such laid-back, swaying folk that to hear it put across in such an incredibly clipped way just doesn’t feel natural at any point. While we can surely agree that mindless repetition is rife in modern music, Alessi’s Ark takes things the other way entirely, rarely allowing any musical idea or phrase to be sufficiently introduced, reprised or extended in any way that would allow it to have its full effect on us. The result is that whole record can breeze by in a disappointingly passive way.
For the most part, The Still Life deviates only quite minimally from dreamily naïve style with which the Alessi’s Ark name was originally made; there simply isn’t enough new happening here to truly demand the time of new listeners. That being said, the broadened instrumental palette is significant, exemplified by the likes of the pretty thumb piano in “Tin Smithing” and the fairly frequent appearance of strings and keyboards elsewhere. Laurent-Marke also adds a verse sung in French to “Sans Balance”, a nice and surprisingly comfortable turn for her.
A minor increase in experimentation aside, The Still Life sees Alessi’s Ark remaining true to the sound which brought Laurent-Marke to prominence. This state of affairs will no doubt satisfy many existing fans, and with good reason — these are still the songs of a unique and talented performer, even if they aren’t driving forwards as quickly as some would have us believe. For all too many, however, The Still Life is just too pedestrian and unmemorable to truly recommend in the crowded field of talented singer-songwriters.