Despite the wandering loveliness of 18 year old Alessi Laurent-Marke’s debut album, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want other people to hear it. And not for reasons of selfishness or wanting to be cooler than thou – rather the desire to protect her, to tuck her and the swooping warmth of her voice away from a press that’ll to turn Alessi’s Ark into the next poster girl for an untapped genre; to save her from the potential ignominious fate of a major label getting her to make the same album over and over until the cash cow’s bled dry and all inspiration stifled; to keep her away from the naysayers who’ll nitpick at her for being an arcane young Londoner with tangible influences that unabashedly bob their pretty heads above the surface of Notes From the Tree House.
Fortunately or unfortunately, whichever way you look at it, with an album this strong there’s absolutely no chance of it staying under the radar – especially when you consider that she walked straight out of senior school with her GCSE Music compositions and into the arms of EMI, and Saddle Creek rabble rouser Mike Mogis. It’s a worry from the first song, ‘Magic Weather’, that the soaring weight of ornate instrumentation befitting of Van Dyke Parks might overwhelm Alessi – the strings pop up in nooks and crannies, and reveal themselves sparkle by sparkle to be a vast Narnia of wonderment – but she coolly holds her own amongst the perhaps over-lavish production, smoothing out inconsistent vocal ticks to eventually swoon like Alela Diane or Nina Nastasia.
This could come across as patronizing, but considering that most of the recent soup of young singers are possessed with a gift for lyrics that makes Twitter look profound, Alessi’s Ark deal an impressive hand in succinct, measured wistfulness that can’t help but raise a smile – on ‘Over the Hill’ she sings, “I know we’ll get there eventually / but I’m English, so bear with me” with dreamy sagacity, and rolls through the hazy lullaby of ‘Constellations’, turning “she loves you, yes she does” into “Hell I’m in love with you, yes it’s true”, conjuring the beautiful, all-engulfing moment of being magnetized by the face of a hoped-for lover.
‘Notes From the Tree House’ isn’t a perfect album, but what use would that be? The most pertinent comparison in terms of early ability would be to Cat Power – but whereas Chan Marshall developed her often difficult angst into lustrous showmanship, it’d be lovely to see Alessi go the other way, and steer this polished sunrise into even more experimental territory. Little pockets of eerie sonogram echoes and dissonant film dialogue hide below the record’s surface like buried treasure, proving that Alessi is more than capable of keeping her own secrets.