Since the release of her first EP in 2014, Billie Marten has cultivated a gentle indie-folk style, most clearly demonstrated by her 2019 release Feeding Seahorses by Hand. Flora Fauna, released in May ahead of her ongoing tour, retains the comforting tone she is known for, but balances this with an impressive show of personal and musical growth: a darker, more adventurous sound is achieved with fuller textures and more varied instrumentation as Marten expresses her anger and fatigue at the state of the modern world alongside her desire to be surrounded by nature and feel connected to the earth, in a powerful showcase of the outstanding songwriting we have come to expect.
Marten’s lockdown impulse purchase of choice was a bass guitar, providing a solid foundation for several tracks on this album. ‘Garden of Eden’ is the first of these tracks, with a strong bassline immediately defining a new era of musical style. The natural theme of the album is immediately evident, certainly helped by the album’s title and artwork – covering yourself in mud can’t have been pleasant but the dedication to the album cover is clear! The verses’ lyrics critique our modern culture of productivity, and the choruses provide contrast with more pastoral content – the tone of the album is set.
‘Creature of Mine’ is, in Marten’s words, a cry of “frustration with the planet” and a “mish-mash of all sound.” This is certainly an accurate description of a powerful track which shows Marten’s talent for expressing anger. She does not shy away from this intensity, as the following track is ‘Human Replacement’, a hard-hitting song conveying Marten’s anger at the perpetual fear felt when simply existing in the world as a woman. The resentment at the fact that “you’re just not safe in the evening” is felt in Marten’s voice and echoed in the harsh instrumentals, expressing a feeling that is all too easy to relate to.
‘Liquid Love’ is a personal favourite from the album, with soothing backing vocals and an accompaniment that completely surrounds the listener, expressing the “hazy feeling” of “beauty and melancholia” that Marten talks about on her Instagram explanation of the song. Following this is ‘Heaven’, a song that makes extensive use of the timbre of the sitar and questions the use of religion as a process of repentance.
‘Ruin’ fits well within the theme of the album, playing around with rhythm to create a contrast between the verses and choruses similar to ‘Garden of Eden’. The song serves as a reminder that sometimes the things our brains tell us aren’t particularly rational and shows Marten acknowledging this and making light of her problems in a joyful-sounding song. While this sounds strange, it is done sensitively and effectively, making this song another favourite of mine.
‘Pigeon’ is another song that we all seem to relate to, describing the fatigue brought about by the fast-paced, commercial world we inhabit. This song is repetitive, but Marten manages to use this to her advantage to really convey the tiredness expressed in the lyrics without the song itself becoming tedious.
Following the intense textures of ‘Kill the Clown’ are the final two songs of the album: ‘Walnut’ and ‘Aquarium’. The vocal harmonies of ‘Walnut’ are captivating, and an effective contrast to the previous track. ‘Aquarium’ makes for a calming end to the album in which Marten expresses her need to be surrounded by nature and by people she loves.
Flora Fauna is a heartfelt project that shows a real sense of Marten’s growth and branching out from her previous album. The lyrics demonstrate this perfectly, and are reflected in the fuller instrumental textures and more upbeat songs. While Feeding Seahorses by Hand was the perfect album to provide a sense of comforting sadness, Flora Fauna feels more hopeful. Marten’s songwriting is incredibly self-aware and lyrically brilliant, acknowledging the world and its problems but using natural environmental imagery to provide a much-needed remedy.
Illustration: Anna Pycock