Album Reviews

Mara Carlyle – Floreat

(Ancient & Modern) UK release date: 15 August 2011

Mara Carlyle - Floreat Floreat: let it flourish (orig: Latin)

It’s an appropriate title for Mara Carlyle’s long-delayed second album. Originally set for release in 2008, Carlyle’s follow-up to The Lovely quickly became a victim of Terra Firma’s takeover of EMI where she found herself, according to a recent interview, “on the bottom of a pile where Lily Allen and Coldplay were on the top”.

Purgatory followed, until a renaissance was inspired by the unlikely source of an advert for Ikea. Carlyle’s beautiful track Pianni soundtracked footage of hundreds of kittens running around a Swedish furniture store, Carlyle managed to buy the rights to her own album back, and seven years after The Lovely graced our shelves, we eventually have Floreat.

Always too eclectic to be dismissed as a mere ‘folkie’ (she once performed an unlikely mash-up of the Pixies‘ Hey and One Thing by Amerie), there’s a whole mesh of styles here. The arrangements are unusual, but not self-consciously quirky, while the presence of Dan Carey (who has produced the likes of Hot Chip, CSS and La Roux) may seem an unusual choice, but he adds a pop sensibility to the album while keeping Carlyle’s unique qualities intact.

It’s a journey that takes in jazzy ballads (But Now I Do…), lushly orchestrated musings that the likes of Rufus Wainwright would be proud of (King), and even Janelle Monáe-like kooky soul pop in tracks like Pearl. There’s also a lightness of touch which, combined with the complex arrangements and Carlyle’s warm, sensual voice, ensures that the listener comes back time and time again.

Carlyle knows how to spring the odd lyrical surprise too. Weird Girl, at first listen, appears to be a kiss-off to an abusive lover: “you said nobody else would have me, you said nobody else would have me”, but just as you’re expecting the empowering chorus comes the twist: “…and you were right”. Pearl is similarly playful, a pick-me-up to a dumped friend with some wonderful lines like “this boy must be blind, if he can’t see you and your gorgeous behind”.

Away With These Self-Loving Lads, previewed on 2008’s Ancient & Modern EP, updates Elizabethan composer John Dowland‘s 1598 composition with piano loops and handclaps to gorgeous effect, while the instrumental How It Felt (To Kiss You) is so yearning and tender it would fit snugly onto a Sigur Rós album.

In fact from the brief Gregorian chants of All Will Be Well to the understated piano of the closing The Devil And Me, this is an album that sparkles with invention and surprise. As the old saying goes, the best things are worth waiting for, and Floreat has proved to be well worth the wait.

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Mara Carlyle – Floreat