Billie Marten has always been a natural at pairing softly-spoken storytelling with colourful guitar. Flora Fauna is the British singer/songwriter’s third full-length, and her growth as an artist is blooming. The essence of her songcraft remains intact, but a newfound clarity comes with her growing age. Wisdom and perspective seep out of the tracklist, embedded in metaphors of nature and vivid imagery. There’s also more rhythmic experimentation in the instrumentation, that branches out from the guitar/vocal backbone.
Take the opening track and lead single Garden of Eden, in which Marten throws the listener in the deep end. The singer enters the track with a galloping bass riff and drums, building tension and suspense. “Seperate the sweet and sour”, Marten sings, signifying that the artist is thinking about her surroundings in a new light, not susceptible to the trickery that often drowns emerging artists before their zenith. On Garden of Eden, Marten makes her powerful presence known.
Next is Creature of Mine, arguably the most salient moment on the record. An unsettling melancholy and sense of belonging paired with a body-friendly rhythm section rattle your bones. Then a signature, hushed, pre-chorus sung in falsetto stops you in your tracks. The details that made Marten an indie-force all culminate into an unforgettable track of refinement and purpose. “I’m choosing you because you tell me my worth”, Marten decides in the second verse. It’s another indicator that the singer is surrounding herself with beautiful people. It pairs nicely with the music video in which Marten rows at sunset in a Kent fishing centre, a gorgeous environment even cynics wouldn’t decline.
Human Replacement presents an off-kilter vocal delivery; staccatoed and punching. Once again, a bass riff is at the forefront of the soundscape, evoking movement and change. It has a dissonant, dark tone, similar to the tracks found on Billie Eilish’s debut LP, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Next track, Liquid Love, is a slower track, and a welcome change of pace. Gorgeous vocal layerings and a gentle drum loop tempt a daydream. It’s an immersive, beautiful moment which rewards multiple listens with its assured lyricism, much like the best covers of all time.. “Proud of my actions”, “I kiss the lips of every sun coming”.
Heaven was less convincing for me. The instrumental experimentation is commendable and I appreciate the risk-taking, but the stagnant synth-bass and half-baked guitar lick felt a little lackluster. Fortunately, the driving bass is back on Ruin; a quirky, groovy, track that lets way to a confession in the chorus. There’s a slick rhythm change which your ears will appreciate. They’ll also appreciate the contrast of Marten’s delicately high falsetto next to the low-range bass.
Pigeon treats us to some folk-acoustic guitar, which has been largely unused till this moment. Lovers of older Marten tracks will gravitate to this one; it’s the simple, earnest, yet powerful songwriting which brought Marten to the indie-limelight. It’s also dipped in wisdom and self-analysis, like fellow folk artist, Julia Jacklin.
Kill The Clown also receives the colourful, acoustic treatment. A tight and restrained rhythm section back this one, and the strings in the chorus create an intriguing ambience. Once more, Billie asks for her confidence and accomplishments to be taken seriously; which they absolutely should. Concise, blunt lyrics like “After all, I am not a baby doll, I got bills to pay, and they never go away” feels raw and earned.
Walnut slows down the tempo and hits a minor key. Vocal harmonies stick together like silk, trapping the listener in Marten’s haunted world. At last, we reach the final track, Aquarium. Marten uses the location to explore her feelings, longings, and moments gone by, to an unpredictable, stunning chord progression. The track is testament to Marten’s growth not only as an artist, but as a person. “I am too bold without them, I am too cold without them”. As strong as Marten is, the need for a loving, nurturing environment remains paramount.
Flora Fauna is available as of now. Limited edition vinyl and merch are available here*.