Alessi’s Ark Time Travel Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Folk singer’s second LP features strong songs delivered with an elegant naivety.

Garry Mulholland 2011

Alessi Laurent-Marke is, you suspect, a girl who has little time for the modern world. Unlike the vast majority of her southwest London collegiate pop peers – but a little like one of them, Anna Calvi – she has little interest in defining the zeitgeist by attempting to fuse hip dance styles with chart pop. She makes folky songs, has worked with Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, tours with Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons, name-checks Graham Nash in the press-release, covers 60s pop queen Lesley Gore and dressed her latest EP in a photo taken in the How We Lived Then museum in Eastbourne. The EP in question, last year’s Soul Proprietor, was conspicuously free of dubstep remixes.

Yet her second album, Time Travel – and yep, that would be another clue – doesn’t feel self-consciously retro. Touting a small band sound dominated by drums, bass and acoustic and electric guitars, and singing like a cross between Hope Sandoval and Björk, Laurent-Marke has made a record of deceptive simplicity, some charm and a liberal measure of timelessness. It’s all about songs with strong melodies, some sad, some jaunty, sung with an elegant naivety, and produced – by David Wrench in Wales and Marcus Hamblett in Brighton – with an unfashionable lack of pointless digital space-filling.

The cover of Gore’s girl-group classic Maybe I Know is gorgeous, but it’s three of Laurent-Marke’s own songs that neatly define the breadth of Time Travel’s interests. On the Plain has that jangly, woodwind-flecked mix of innocence and experience familiar to fans of Belle & Sebastian; closer The Bird Song bears an ancient ambience created by harp, ukulele, whistles and a trad-jazz brass section; and Must’ve Grown glides into a wall of Richard Thompson folk-grunge guitars yet ends before the two-minute mark, despite being the kind of grand, power-folk thing that lesser talents might build festival sets around. Indeed, Time Travel travels through 12 tunes in less than half-an-hour, yet ambles rather than speeds and feels entirely complete.

Alessi’s Ark carries its ideas two-by-two, sails well above the current flood of increasingly desperate folk wannabes, and weaves a modest magic that is hard to pinpoint, yet even harder to resist. And if Time Travel isn’t quite a classic, it does enough to suggest that this 20-year-old has one in her Davy Jones’ Locker.

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