Album Review: Billie Marten – As Long As EP
The first time I heard Billie Marten sing was on an Ont Sofa episode. Her clarity was absolutely piercing. Imagine my surprise, then, to hear her opening line on her debut EP that sounded a bit muffled. It didn’t ring true with the clarity that I had come to expect from this young singer songwriter. But then I listened more closely – the understated vocal is intentional and it gets more textured with each listen.
“Roots” is the rhythmic and subtle opener for Marten’s As Long As EP. Take a bit of James Taylor’s syncopated pop melody combined with a great lead vocal… okay, sure, think Carly Simon. Marten’s voice is, really, timeless and beautiful. But it’s the way that she delivers her lines that reminds me of music from the 70s. Her melancholy seeps through each line on “Roots,” an existential reflective piece that’s a great way to start the album.
The second track “Cursive” has gorgeous fingerpicking. When Marten enters with her soft, articulate vocals, the listener cannot help but be emotionally moved. “I will never be… myself.” Again, the song is introspective and conjures images of loneliness and solitude. The revelations of Marten’s heart are gripping. In a world with so many talented young women favoring twee anthems about bebopping between boyfriends, it is a nice change of pace to hear a voice that seems to be crying out and requesting something deeper. In this way (and perhaps somewhat stylistically) she’s in the same class as Lily and Madeline.
“She’s under water again, somebody’s daughter or friend… nobody’s watching… drowning in words so sweet.” Billie Marten is an absolute lyrical poet. The way, then, that she can deliver this powerful lines on “Bird” provide a brilliant mix of tenderness and empathy. It’s obvious that she knows and loves people deeply. To be frank, it’s almost unsettling how gently Marten exposes the heart of her subjects and, ostensibly, herself.
The final title track is “As Long As,” another acoustic song that lives in the melancholic minor chords. The fingerpicking pattern again sets our hearts at ease while also calling us not to be too comfortable. There are even some bluesy inflections on this one that merely scratch the surface of where Marten may go in her career. “We’ll start over again… grow a new soft skin…” The song is a call for renewal and rebirth; it’s about looking back on scars and brokenness, but it seems to be urging listeners to emerge out of it. Stunning and beautiful.
Marten is a welcome change of pace voice in a crowded singer songwriter landscape. Her ability to tell these sorts of sad, tragic, emotional stories is really remarkable. Her talent is really still emerging, which is shocking in and of itself. I’m genuinely looking forward to hearing where she goes from this EP. But there’s no need to rush; I’ll listen to this album several times over. Of course the four songs don’t feel like enough, but they whet my appetite for more from this exquisite songstress.