There is a gentle melancholy that pervades “Writing of Blues and Yellows” which, given that the notes were penned by a 16 year old sitting her GCSEs, is captivating in its candour.
Dubbed an “adolescent prodigy” by BBC Music’s Sound of 16, Billie Marten (Isabella Sophie Tweddle) seems set to join the current canon of indie-folk-inspired artists such as Birdy and Laura Marling with her breathy, intense vocals. Having toured in 2015 with musically similar act, Lucy Rose, Marten’s promise as a performer in her own right is evident following the release of her debut album.
“Writing of Blues and Yellows” beautifully charts an exploration of youth – themes of self-consciousness, uncertainty and yearning to experience more than what is available are infused in each track. The opening song, “La Lune”, sets the tone for the rest of the album with its acoustic and sparse instrumentation showcasing her atmospheric vocals. While there is little instrumental or stylistic variance throughout the album, the focus on Marten’s voice is apt for her musical inauguration.
With its gentle piano motif providing the heartbeat over which Marten’s ethereal vocal glides, “Bird” provides one of the album’s highlights. Marten’s plaintive melody enhances the poignant lyrics, “Hope is a distance unreached / ink on her skin incomplete / and the faint sound of friends / as she neared to the end she had peace”. Indeed, when the single was released in October 2015, Radio One’s Annie Mac dubbed it “Record of the Week”, prompting further accolades from Ed Sheeran who tweeted his approval of the “stunning” track to 15 million followers.
Marten admits to growing up listening to her parent’s records and how they’ve undoubtedly permeated her own music. One such influence is the singer-songwriter style of Joni Mitchell which can be heard throughout the album, most distinctly in “Live” which bears a conspicuous likeness to Mitchell’s “A Case of You”. With its sparse opening guitar chords followed by wistful, yearning lyrics and simple accompaniment, Marten pines, “I want to go places that I’ve never been… I want to see things I’ve never seen.” The parallels don’t stop there. Marten’s “Writing of Blues and Yellows” has resonances of arguably Joni Mitchell’s most famous album “Blue” not only in name but with similar cover art of a close shot of the artist’s face. In both cases, the artwork indicates the strongly introspective and personal impetus of the album; like her antecedent, Marten interprets and understands her surroundings through her music.
While Marten’s writing yet lacks the maturity of that of her influences such as Laura Marling or Joni Mitchell, “Writing of Blues and Yellows” is an impressive debut which firmly establishes her capabilities as an emotive songwriter. As surely as her own life experiences will increase, her musical output can be expected to flourish.
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- QR Music Reviews: Billie Marten – Writings of Blues and Yellows - October 26, 2016