Alessi’s Ark (the trading name of Londoner Alessi Laurent-Marke) emerged two years ago with her debut album Notes From The Treehouse. Laurent-Marke was just 18 at the time, and the early stages of her career seemed serendipitous in a way that’s likely to arouse suspicions among time-grizzled veterans of the music scene.
Laurent-Marke enjoyed the backing of a major label (EMI’s Virgin), a big-name American producer (Bright Eyes knob-twiddler Mike Mogis), and members of Conor Oberst‘s band, who appeared on the record in various supporting roles; there were also support slots with Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons. Yet, despite having seemingly everything going for her, Alessi’s Ark failed to match the crossover success of her touring partners.
Now, two years on, Time Travel arrives in altogether more modest circumstances. For unrevealed reasons, Laurent-Marke is no longer on a major label, having moved from Virgin to the dependably excellent indie Bella Union, and the album was produced on her home soil by the relative unknowns David Wrench and Marcus Hamblett.
Given their similar ages and their shared occupation of the new British folk scene, comparisons with Laura Marling are understandable. But Laurent-Marke’s approach to the genre is less reverent than the rather serious Marling. Musically, Time Travel is a traditional affair: harp, ukulele, woodwind and acoustic guitars (lots of them) all appear. But it’s testament to the album’s consistent tunefulness that it’s the songs, not the instrumentation, that stick. And, yes, one could imagine one or two of them being played on Radio 2.
First single Wire has a lovely, descending chorus and trumpet that arrives like shafts of sunlight piercing through thick cloud cover. The pretty, harp-embellished instrumental The Fever will please those who enjoy the bits of Joanna Newsom‘s music when the woman with the funny voice isn’t singing.
While Time Travel is mostly a sedate, bucolic affair, there are welcome moments of musical and lyrical aggression. Sneaky highlight Must’ve Known is a pocket-sized epic that surges to a noisy, electrified climax in precisely two minutes. It’s typical of a record that’s a model of economy and efficiency: only two of Time Travel’s twelve tracks pass the three-minute mark, while Wrench and Hamblett’s excellent, unshowy production allows every instrument to exist comfortably in its own space.
The only duff moment is Maybe I Know, a jaunty cover of Lesley Gore‘s 1964 girl-group single. It makes Laurent-Marke sound like Eliza Doolittle and seems like an obvious bid for radio airplay. Fortunately, on the remainder of Time Travel, Alessi’s Ark sounds like she can achieve mainstream success purely on her own terms.