Album Review: Billie Marten - 'Feeding Seahorses by Hand'


Whilst there is the possibility of losing yourself amongst expectations and uncertainty when you release music from a young age such as fifteen, there is also the opposite effect that can happen, which is having the ability to learn exactly what you need to be doing in order to maintain sanity. Billie Marten is lucky enough to fall into the latter category of musicians. 

After her critically acclaimed debut album ‘Writing of Blues and Yellows’ was released whilst she was still in school, and submersed in youthful vulnerability and uncertainty, Billie’s second album ‘Feeding Seahorses by Hand’ is a confident declaration of knowing your place in the world; even if you may still be figuring it out at times. The languid nature of ‘Mice’ is a recognisable commentary on an imperfect mental state. Billie’s breathy voice sings “I’m tired” with a heavy weightlessness that is so evocative of what it feels like to be in a bout of depression. It’s the distinctive omniscient nonchalance in her voice that allows her to get away with slipping dark lyrics into songs that have the tone of distant dream-like perfection. “I’m a slaughtered pig and I’m happy to die” being the stand-out of ‘Blood Is Blue’.

Moving to London was a big part of the album process. Working in a pub and observing the people around her, gave Billie a wealth of subjects to write about, so much so, that the album turned out to be less introspective than her debut. It wasn’t easy to make the move from Yorkshire, to London, but Billie is finding her feet. She says that the songs are “much more direct and present tense. [There is] no room for retrospect as I’ve realised there isn’t much point in dwelling anymore”. The clever chorus in ‘Toulouse’ that ends with “born to lose” is testament to that idea. Whilst ‘Feeding Seahorses by Hand’ is predominantly an album focused on acoustics and recorded on a four-track tape, ‘She Howls’ is beautifully and suggestively a jazzier offering. The electric clicks and tinkering synths in the background offer a stillness where you are unable to pick a point in time that this doesn’t fit into.

The use of toys for added layers in a song, isn’t uncommon and the subtleties of the whistling throughout ‘Bad Apple’ is unmistakable. “Sometimes I feel that I am bigger than most” is the slightly ironic opener to the more wholesome and fuller sounding ‘Boxes’. Billie is clearly more confident in her musical capabilities and it shows in her subtle experimentation. ‘Anda’ and ‘Fish’ are incredibly simple in their production but their sanguine disposition make them feel a lot more complex. “We’re like two lovers on an unmade bed” offers a poetic-minded Billie. Sometimes it is all about the delivery. If Billie continues on her current path of releasing an album every two years, it will be incredibly interesting to see what kind of music she is making when she reaches her mid-twenties, as that is the time when we’re all meant to know what we’re doing with our lives, right?

Words by Tyler Damara Kelly