The Still Life, the third proper full-length from Alessi’s Ark (the project of 22-year-old Alessi Laurent-Marke), is an album about contrasts. And how fitting, then, that the lyrics throughout offer such depth and introspection as to belie Laurent-Marke’s mere 22 years. But perhaps that’s no surprise, given Alessi’s prolific output since 2007. She is obviously driven to make art and perhaps therefore also driven to feel on a level deeper than most 22-year-olds are capable.
Laurent-Marke’s voice is in itself a contrast—both innocent and sultry, simultaneously that of a schoolgirl and a siren—and it is her greatest instrument on this album. It physically manifests the juxtaposition of innocence and aged depth that permeates here.
But the contrasts spotlighted in The Still Life are not all so abstract. The opening track, “Tin Smithing,” harks to this, speaking of the collaboration between flesh and metal—human hands with tin. This is no doubt an intentional introduction to the album, a warning of sorts to the listener that what follows is a departure from previous Alessi’s Ark albums. The Still Life veers slightly away from the more straight-ahead organic folkiness of the past and introduces electronics into both the instrumentation and the mastering, which only serves to enhance the richness and complexity of this album.
This is indeed a pensive album, and “the still life” evoked in the title acts as both a reference to the slice-of-life quality it captures and also implores the listener to take more time to quietly ponder the idiosyncrasies of life. And like real life, The Still Life does not provide a trite transition from dark to light or vice versa; it is a balanced mix of both—the hopeful interspersed amongst the bleak…or is it the other way around?
On the light side, there is the lilting, gentle teasing of “Whatever Makes You Happy” (“Whatever makes you happy is what you’re supposed to do…. Hey, big chicken, who are you kidding?”) or the upbeat sentiment “Life is good, and it can’t stay still” of “Sans Balance.” Conversely there is the dark mystery of “Afraid of Everyone” (“I’m afraid of everyone…. But I don’t have the drugs to sort it out”), which has a sparse, Joy Division–like quality. And “Hands in the Sink” deftly tackles the theme of regret, of making the wrong choices. It opens with an organ dirge, evoking a funeral. Doing the dishes, the song’s narrator considers how she washes one man’s clothes but wishes she had chosen differently: “I clean his clothes, but it’s yours I would have chose.” The darkness tempers the light, and vice versa.
In “Veins Are Blue” Laurent-Marke intones, “You can’t hold me down anymore.” Perhaps this is her assertion of autonomy, her breaking free of the constraints of the music she made in the past. Whatever the case, The Still Life is an exciting landmark on the musical path of this still-young musician. She has the luxury of time and seemingly endless creativity to continue to make great music long into the future.