They say that happiness is a journey, and not a destination. It matters most what you do to get there, not what you do once you have it. Alessi Laurent-Marke has realised this. In fact, she's done more than that; she's written an album about it. A 'still life' is a form of art, but it's also the phrase Laurent-Marke has used to describe a content existence. She's still looking for hers; has she found it yet? Who's to say? It's the journey that matters most, and she's been on quite a journey since releasing her debut back in 2009. Notes From the Treehouse was a fine debut that left room for improvement; its follow-up, 2011's Time Travel was even better, but the confidence that oozes from every note of The Still Life makes it her best album to date almost by default. Aside from the voice and the intricate arrangements of the 13 tracks that make up the album - including a near-perfect cover of 'Afraid of Everyone' by The National - one wouldn't really know this was Alessi's Ark.
Its overall running time may seem slight - not far off a mere 32 minutes - but this is far from a throwaway folk-pop record. The melodies are expertly crafted, and the clear jump from Laurent-Marke's previous material is evident the moment the album opens with the brief but brilliant 'Tin Smithing', the singer employing excellent phrasing and breath control in a fast-moving song that doesn't hang around quite long enough to be appreciated on initial listens, but that's the thing about The Still Life: all of its material may be immediate, but it's nothing if not a grower, with its creator speaking with a new-found lyrical and emotional depth. That The National cover is no mere curio; it fits in alongside the mournful-sounding 'Big Dipper' and 'Those Waves's' confident swing, the occasional cello interjections and impressive harmonies buoying the song before it becomes much more powerful after its chorus, the cello and plucked guitar line combining to create a spine-tingling moment.
It soon becomes clear that Laurent-Marke's latest is a deeply personal and affecting record; 'Sans Balance' contains a single French verse surrounded by English, and the juxtaposition between the two is striking, the song's lyrics seeming even more poetic when expressed bilingually. Laurent-Marke has no trouble confronting personal conflict in her native tongue, and tackles songs like 'Hands in the Sink' and the gorgeous closer 'Pinewoods' with experience which belies the fact that she's still only 22. Her first two albums planted the seeds of talent, but The Still Life is the record on which she's finally starting to bloom. Better late than never.