Bird is available at:
13th October, 2015
The E.P. As Long As is available to pre-order at:
As Long As
I have just put down my electronic pen reviewing Dean Gant..
an Illinois-born musician who has worked with the likes of Outkast. His debut album The Journey mixes Jazz, Soul and R&B into something mesmeric and genre-fusing. A brilliant collection, it is great to hear an experienced producer and musician concentrate on musicianship and quality. From a middle-aged black U.S. musician to a 16-year-old singer from Yorkshire is quite a shift in dynamic and focus. I shall get to the arresting and stunning Billie Marten soon, but listening to her story compels me to introduce the topics of young songwriters, maturity and songwriting quality. When I think of Pop and Folk music my mind always goes back to the past. My favourite artists- from Jeff Buckley and Steely Dan; Fleetwood Mac and Bob Dylan- are very much of yesteryear. I have been hunting for a modern-day paragon that could inspire my mind and add to my record collection. Whilst there are some transitory and one-off gems to be found, that issue of longevity comes to the fore. I find a lot of modern Pop music either too immature and woe-is-me or it lacks that necessary depth and musical affinity. Folk music has always produced some awesome acts but I feel there are too few modern-day wonders. I have a lot of time for the likes of Laura Marling but as she is ‘between albums’ I am looking for a second-in-command Folk singer who can soothe my heart. I would be heard-pressed to name that many Pop, Folk and Soul acts that make me want to investigate them further. There is some mature songwriting out there but it tends to be played by artists that have age and experience on their side. Looking at Billie Marten amazes me somewhat. Being a young and upcoming songwriter, public perceptions would assume a position of scepticism and cliché. A lot of Marten’s contemporaries are mired in world of post-party arguments and teenage rebellion. If you look at your One Direction fans, they would probably not take to Marten too well. Whereas your One Direction songs have a very particular style and subject matter, Marten deals with more grown-up and inspired sides. In a world where you have to go to the U.S. to find young singers with mature souls- perhaps the likes of Taylor Swift fall into the category- the Yorkshire based songsmith is one of our very finest young writers. Not too much is revealed on social media, with regards Marten’s influences and biography. Digging through an interview she conducted with Teen Vogue and you get some insight and layers. At the time of the interview she was 15 and launching her E.P. Ribbon. This year has seen that E.P. gain ground and support; the young talent has been gigging and preparing to release her latest cut, As Long As. Looking at her Twitter account, you get a picture of a very intelligent girl with an exceptional taste in music. From Jeff Buckley- who is my hero, and it means Marten is very much alright by me- and Fleetwood Mac (Rumours is one of the best albums I own) and you get a mature and cultured set of shoulders. Reading interviews and you get someone entering the music world with a lot of dignity and pragmatism. Marten began her music ascent covering songs on YouTube. As she ascribed, her grandparents (who reside in France) would be sent videos due to the insistence of her parents. Able to reinterpret and play with other artists, it motivated Marten to step into the limelight and indulge her own creative soul. Ribbon is a four-track collection- and I will do a mini-review of that later- that was surprisingly accomplished and complete. Her first real collection, it saw the young singer show incredible insight and ability. Being a teenager should not cloud your judgements and expectations. Too many media outlets fixate on tender years and teenage ideals. Marten is very much a woman when it comes to music and her sound. One listen to that outstanding and soul-buckling voice and you get embers of a young Buckley. When I heard Jeff Buckley seduce crowds on Live at Sin-e (his live album that was recorded in New York in 1993) and you get reincarnated embers in Marten. That same entrancing high and breathlessness radiates through the notes. On the outside Marten is your average, if very beautiful, young woman who is a girl-next-door with an infectious smile. After hearing her sing, you get images of classical Soul singers and Folk legends. Touches of Buckley’s Grace-era transcendence- I could imagine Marten doing a mean version of Last Goodbye– and Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac come to mind. Bits of Stevie Nicks and Marling show she has one ear on U.S. music and the other on current U.K. offerings. Having immersed herself in music’s finest artists from a young age, this has been extrapolated and translated into something personal and hugely original. As Long As’ cover is striking and beautiful to see. The music contained within is equally affecting and wondrous. I have long-reviewed Yorkshire music and from the likes of Issimo to Jen Armstrong, there is so much diversity and quality to be found. Maybe it is the luscious and awe-inspiring views or friendly locals that make music such a natural thing. Whatever is inspiring Marten, she should clear her calendar in 2016. Being a teenager, she will have to decide whether she balances academic pursuits with music or dedicates her full attention to the craft. On the evidence of her latest track, I would love to hear more from Marten. She has a talent and voice that has left me speechless and is one of the most intelligent and fascinating musicians in the country. That said, she is so young she could take time out and do music-part time. Having already created two E.P.s, the Yorkshire musician deserves some time out and a break. There is a lot of critical excitement and her social media ranks are buzzing with anticipation. In a few days her new E.P. is dropped, and judging by her social media posts, Marten is excited and hungry for the future. Bird is a fraction of her talent but demonstrates just what an immense talent she has. In a Pop-cum-Folk world with too many effete and beige examples, Billie Marten has a voice, pen and grit that ensure she not only topples her peers- she ranks alongside some of the greats. I have mentioned the likes of Buckley and Fleetwood Mac without hyperbole or insincerity. I know Buckley’s music better than most living people and adore Fleetwood Mac. In years to come I can see Marten performing to U.S. crowds and creating a Grace-esque masterpiece. She has that natural lyricism and poetic soul which, when coupled with a haunting and gorgeous vocal, leaves the listener spellbound.
If you are new to Billie Marten, it may well be worth going back and starting from the beginning. Both logical and revealing, it not only shows how she had developed but means you get a better sense of the young artist and what inspires her music. Unaware reminds me of Pink Moon-Nick Drake. That bouncing and haunting acoustic guitar sees that tremendous voice smokily declare. “Pulling me in” with charm and seduction, Marten expands and builds the song into something hopeful. With her mind clouded and covered in smoke, there are scenes of dislocation and break-up. Whether inspired by fiction or a time in her life, her heart and soul are laid bare into a song of maturity and passion. Whoever inspired the track has broken everything and caused some scars. Bringing in some elements of Country and Folk, it is that husky and scintillating voice that gets inside the heart.
Ribbon builds from a riparian and racing acoustic motif that leads into a deliciously serene vocal. Breathy and tender, our heroine walks a trail “leaving sparkling gold behind”. Projecting so many vivid and fantastical images, Marten combines high-pitched beauty with emotional lows to create something naked and sparse. In the midst of revelation and honesty, our heroine wants to belong and feel complete. There is a sense of isolation and fitting-in the scene, as Marten is a nomad who likes to wander. Drake’s lyrics come into play here, with Marten showing the same sort of beauty and poetry throughout. Her delicate voice ensures listeners are seduced and transfixed with every note- perhaps the E.P.’s finest moment.
In for the Kill starts gently and seems to project the sound of the ocean (maybe I am over-reaching) with our heroine delivering one of her purist performances. Fires and arguments rage and a love-gone-cold realisation is spoken of. Whether addressing a particular subject or not, Marten makes La Roux’s song her own. Stripping it back and reinventing it, the song takes on new relevance and meaning. Down to its cold and naked bones, the emphasis is less on composition and more on voice. That pure and mesmeric tone is beautifully supported by aching strings and plinking keys to create something shivering and spine-tingling. You could imagine this song being a live favourite as it is sure to leave crowds speechless. Having masterfully tackled Royal Blood’s Out of the Black, Marten shows how great she is as an interpreter. Like Buckley, she can make any song she tackles sound her own and completely new. Making rough-and-ready songs transcendent is a hard thing to achieve; she does it and sounds completely natural. It is that singular and incredible voice that makes everything she approaches sound completely of-the-moment and essential.
Since Ribbon, Marten released Heavy Weather back in April. The song continues Ribbon’s themes and sound but sees the young songwriter grow in confidence and concision. The opening verse matches Nick Drake in terms of its my-God-how-did-she-think-of-that wonder- “When the sun rises silver/If it rises at all/Meet me there across the water/And we’ll start an endless storm”. It is the sort of wording you’d expect Dylan to write let alone a teenager. Such an intelligent and original take, you are breathless from the start. It is that voice that reigns with majesty; ensuring every scene and lyric is given the utmost sense of occasion and purpose. Caught up in the English weather and thunderstorms, there is that battle-against-the-odds mentality as Marten and her sweetheart will not retreat or be defeated. It may be stormy but they have one another and are wrapped up in another.
Marten has grown and developed in a short space of time, and with each new release her lyrics get stronger and more compelling. As Long As is another step forward and shows a young woman with a fertile and stunning musical mind. Her compositions have developed and grown whilst her voice seems more rounded and unique. From the start those gorgeous tones were her own; as of now, you can hear that growth and evolution. The songwriting is at its peak and that passion is indefatigable. Ensuring listeners will be asking for more, As Long As is a stunning achievement.
Bird begins with a little crackle and intrigue before a hearty and emphatic piano introduction creates a stunning blend of beauty and composure. The opening verse sees Marten softly and gentle let her voice pull the listener in. “She’s underwater again/Somebody’s daughter, a friend/In the night in the dark in the cold/As she walks far away” are the opening lines, which fuel vivid images and something quite haunted. Drawing together some of Ribbon’s sounds into Bird, you get a crystalline and exceptionally beautiful song. The vocal stands out once more and is allowed absolute clarity and free expression. The production values mean Marten is unfettered and unimpeded; meaning her stunning pin-sharp voice goes directly into the brain. So powerful and entrancing, you are mesmerised (a word I shall be using a lot) and those haunting images keep coming. Whether speaking in a first-person sense- and recalling a low or dark time- or looking outward, the song’s heroine is ill-fated and lonely. The mild water seems almost inviting as the song’s centre seems at the end of hope. Whether using water as a metaphor for pressure and words, you get a tangible sense of mortality and hopelessness. Marten lets her voice rise to a bird-like song as she takes us into the song’s unhappily beating heart. There is some cryptic and oblique aspects to the lyrics. When I heard the words “Hope is a distance unreached/Ink on her skin incomplete” I was instantly thinking of songwriting and music. Perhaps an aim of fulfilment and obtainment, I was looking at those aspects. After a few seconds, my mind came back to mortality and hope- the cessation of both perhaps. The song has a multi-dimensional appeal that means the lyrics alone will put your mind in two different places. You can imagine a heroine nearing water and the end of hope. She might be alone and unaware of protesting and saviour voices. Maybe she feels like she cannot go on for whatever reason. On the other hand, there is the possibility that Marten is speaking about her own feelings and times where she has felt low and hopeless. Whether aiming for musical completion or suffering personal heartache, that vocal does not break or crack. Pure and child-like in its beauty, Marten ensures that enough honesty, sensitive and emotion comes through in the performance- you could never accuse her of being anodyne or unemotional. There are few singers that possess such a beauty and cherub-like voice that makes everything around you disappear. As you hear Bird you hear nothing else; the rest of the world stops spinning as you are drawn into that staggering voice. Such a brave song, you admire the honesty and earnestness of the lyrics. A lot of young songwriters cloud their emotions or cover them up. Here we see Marten expose her feelings and put out a song that is unashamedly raw and confessional. Perhaps the song’s true meanings are known only to our heroine, yet that is the purpose of the song: Each listener can extract their own truths and create their own interpretation. When Marten sings “Where does her start go from here/Lost in the grip” that tangible sense of loss and hopelessness comes back again. Channelling some of Nick Drake’s debut-album work into her own creation, Marten sounds completely true and dedicated to the song. It seems as though it (Bird) holds a particular relevance to her. Whether scorned or burned by a guy or subjected to a river of disappointment, you cannot escape that suffocation. In the final moments, the vocal seemingly becomes more pressing and beautiful. With a piano backing, our heroine is at her most affecting and gravely. It is not to say the song is morbid or suicidal. There is ample beauty and honesty and that is what makes it such a terrific thing. Most artists cannot pull off such a feat and fewer who are of Marten’s age. With such an exceptional set of lyrics and maturity, you are never anything less than amazed by Bird. Images and scenes flow as that voice-and-piano combination create something both still and free-flight. By the closing embers you are left helpless and heartbroken. What of our heroine and the song’s lead? Was her soul condemned to the waters or did her heart find hope in the dark? It is those questions that are left that make you want to talk to Marten herself and ask if all worked out okay. With a surprising amount of nuance to be found- you will need to play it a few times to get to the bottom of things- and you have a brilliant track from a tremendous young songwriter.
Perhaps not the most impressive review that Marten has received I hope at least I have done her justice. Being fairly new to my ears I am staggered by her breadth of ability and talent. She sounds as though she was born to do this and been performing for decades. Few modern songwriters come onto the scene so fully-formed and confident. It is that confidence and natural ability that makes Bird such an impressive creation. The E.P. will expand upon this and see the young Yorkshire songwriter cover different subjects with that inimitable sound. She has said (in interviews) that music means very little if it is not honest and meaningful. You can tell how meaningful the words are to her. This is not a song about partying or text-ing woes. It is a testament from a young woman with a heavy heart and scared soul. That fragility and vulnerability shows someone who can bear her soul and let the listener come into her world. Not hiding behind facades and armour, Marten is a brave and sensitive artist who wants to inspire others. On the evidence here, Marten is going to compel so many other songwriters to follow in her footsteps. A tantalising glimpse into As Long As, it means few ears should ignore the forthcoming release. Not an album solely built around tranquil and acoustic numbers, there is going to be plenty of passion and uplift. Bird is one side of the Yorkshire heroine and one that should not be ignored. One of the most ethereal and beautiful songs I have heard this decade; I cannot recommend and applaud (Marten) heartily enough. One of the finest emerging talents this country currently houses.
I have only recently ‘discovered’ Billie Marten, but from the evidence laid out here, I will be following her with huge interest. The blonde-haired teenage is not someone that will fade into any crowd of miss the eye completely. Her music is some of the finest out there and showcases a dynamic and intelligent songwriter. Having ensconced herself in the strings and dreams of her idols, you can hear her passion and ambition come through with endeavor. Ribbon gave reviewers and listeners a chance to hear what the teenager was about. That E.P. was greeted with great praise and fevered words of love. It is no surprise the press are talking Marten up as one of the scene’s ‘ones-to-watch’. The 16-year-old Folk artist makes sure she does not let her music stick with one sound or subject. As she tells it, her music tries to marry Indie and Pop into a multi-faceted blend of song. Where I have grown tired of a lot of mainstream’s Folk progeny; Marten is a breath of fresh air. Make sure you snap-up As Long As because as long as you miss out on her music, you are doing yourself a wrong. The focus on age and expectation should be singed and buried, you see. Judge Marten on her music alone and you find a wonderful talent with many years ahead of her. So much attention is paid, not only to the music itself, but E.P. images and design. It ensures you are captivated by her photos and beauty but you remain and stay for that all-encompassing and all-inclusive music. Her songs tackle love with maturity and a sharp pen. Elements of a young Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan come through in Bird. Marten introduces metaphysical and meteorological rhapsody to describe love’s proclivities and uncertainty. Twisting ideas and words to great effect, she goes beyond her contemporaries to provide music of the highest order. Looking at storm-battered scenes and elicit kisses; tranquil scenes and fascinating characters and you have a scriber with a stunning imagination and intellect. It only leaves me with a few points to raise. First of all, make sure you buy As Long As when it is released and see what all the fuss is about. The E.P. will showcase Marten as one of this country’s best talents. I was talking about maturity and the state of music in the introduction, so shall bookend it here. There are so many Pop acts and artists that are lewd or crude; they have so little maturity and lyrical quality you wonder why they bother. The market will always have room for vague and disposable acts, so long as the money keeps coming in. The young audience needs something better, and in Marten, we have someone who can assuage our bad market habits and create something inspiring. In time she could go on to join her idols as she has that quality and passion. I shall be sure to see her in concert soon and pay tribute to her wonderful music. With my fingers practically numb- been one of those busy days- I hope you share the merits and music of Yorkshire’s Billie Marten. Not often does someone come along that compels you to drop what you are doing and be seduced. I will leave you with Billie Marten and Nick Drake. In Teen Vogue, Marten mentioned how- when she was growing up and discovering music- Drake’s music spoke to her. This girl becomes more perfect and appealing by the minute and has such a rare and phenomenal taste. As a D.J. and writer I have played Nick Drake on two occasions. Pink Moon is that final and mesmeric album. A very brief and stunning record- it was recorded in a few hours with Drake on acoustic guitar (except for the title track’s piano). Drake was barely able to move, due to the severity of his depression. What you get is unaltered beauty and transcendence. I love Five Leaves Left especially and with voice-and-string genius like River Man and Way to Blue and you understand just what an incredible artist he was. That poetic and wonderful lyrical style mixed with a voice full of gravitas and world-worn experience. Marten is a wise young woman who has had an exceptional music upbringing. Drawing in Drake’s poetry and honesty with Fleetwood Mac’s eclecticism and beauty- with some Buckley-esque sensuality and transcendence- and you have someone with an incredible future. The grittier and harder sides to her music suggest someone who loves her Indie and band music. I would not be surprised to go round her house and see The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead and Muse among her collection (she may correct me). Excelsior to the Marten who is not thinking too far ahead, yet has that ambition and far-sighted grasp. I would not be shocked to see her produce an album in 2016 as she is clearly inspired and motivated to write at the moment. Whether she is in a relationship or been heartbroken, she deals with love and lust in a very intelligent and original way. Whether school, studies, London and music will result in something full-length we can only hope. Marten is about to see As Long As to the general public and she should prepare herself for a cataclysm of love and affection. Being someone who (I’d like to think) has an much passion for music as anyone walking, I adore what Marten has produced. Bird is a terrific song that is the centrepiece to a remarkably accomplished and nuanced collection of songs. No bullsh** or hyperbole, this girl is the real deal. If you do one think this week, go buy her music…
AND see one of our brightest artists do something truly spectacular.
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