It's in human nature to want to leave a mark, some sort of a lasting legacy. Now 9 albums into a 13 year career spent quietly fostering an identity in the consciousness of British folk, Newcastle's Kathryn Williams has always been in the background, despite a Mercury nomination for her second album, 2000's Little Black Numbers. It's too facile to claim that her evasion of commercial success is intentional, and the way in which Williams has constantly transcended the cycles of fashion despite staying admirably true to her craft feels odd. She's a perfect example of musical autonomy and her steely focus has produced an unimpeachable, hushed brand of folk documenting relationships, domesticity and, more recently, motherhood. Yet, paradoxically, in perfecting her art she's faded further and further into obscurity.

New project The Pond signals that she's either no longer content with a musical career in the margins or working on purely her own terms, and might go some way to solving the conundrum of her career. The simple act of taking a step back has allowed Williams to refresh her perspective - these new songs were written casually, pooling resources in unhurried back and forth exchanges with Simon Edwards (of short-lived Scottish popsters Fairground Attraction) and fellow singer-songwriter Ginny Clee, the trio combining to form a sort of unintentionally British version of The Postal Service. The result for Williams' work is seismic - a folk sound with a vastly expanded stylistic pool, applying a fuller instrumentation with more progressive beats, loops and patterns to the delicate template that has become her calling card. Where there were once tiny increments are now broad strokes – a total reinvigoration of style.

If her folk was all inward – a woodsy, waify subterfuge, etching her initials on trees for a few exploring souls to find - the leap to collaborative territory here is akin to her wandering out of the gloom boldly, blinking into the light and discovering new textures. Opening song Carved reflects that outward fascination and feels like a barefoot walk on a beach, the mix of surf on sand in the layering of snatches of a treated, sampled vocal – Williams becoming a sounding board for herself. A skeletal, bluesy acoustic riff, warm synth and accordion then gradually meld together, prompting Williams to muse on the desire to leave something permanent, to "carve my love on a stone," over hazy, regimented drums. It's more widescreen than any of her material to date – this song alone has more production value than an entire album of her early work - and the strive to experiment, albeit in a comfortable way, is as effortless as it is laudable.

The best results come where the envelope is pushed further though. On paper, 'Bebop', with its aim to essentially combine rap and folk - yes, you read that correctly - is an absolute car crash of an idea, but the nimble, twisting rockabilly backdrop that references Gene Vincent's Be-Bop-A-Lula sees it home. A bit more punch would have it sitting comfortably on a Gorillaz album. Then there's 'The River', a song about losing a sense of self in a relationship that has a suitably dark, sinister feel - a sanguine vocal counterpointing an interesting take on Eastern musical styles. Crucially, there's no fiddling on a sitar for the sake of it, but the nature of the influence is nailed - the tableau of drone is offset with melody, underpinned by distorted drums and rolls along like its subject. Best of all is 'End of the Pier', its claustrophobic dub rattle no doubt encouraged by producer Adrian Utley of Portishead. It twists the seaside candy floss imagery of its title into a noirish nightmare, Williams delivering a truly creepy vocal a million miles from her usual tempered, folksy blush.

When the strive for innovation is reined in matters can fall a bit flat, with little to distinguish them from standard singer-songwriter fare - after all, the middle of the road is the easiest place to get run over. 'The Art of Doing Nothing' unintentionally lives up to its title and isn't saved by an injection of brass and doo-wop backing vocals, and 'Pass Us By' is a little too cutesy for its own good. But matters are always well measured - only a couple of songs clock in over 4 minutes, so any missteps are fairly well mitigated. The common denominator is Williams' voice, and it can sometimes limit progress in an idea rich context where adaptability is the order of the day. Whilst she coos, raps, explores more breathy textures and just about pulls off the sultry chanteuse, her lack of range and belt can clip some songs' wings. That said, a similar limitation hasn't harmed Laura Veirs or Damien Jurado, both respected singer songwriters who've enjoyed considerable artistic success by taking thoughtful folk forms on similar journeys recently. Closing song Aim, with its declarative mix of drum machine, accordion, cocktail bar guitar and soaring falsetto, suggests that Williams and The Pond are well capable of joining their ranks.