Imagine an unseasonably mild spring day. There is fresh life and expectancy all around. The air is fragrant and balmy. And yet…
And yet there is an inexplicable unease in the atmosphere. Perhaps a thunderstorm is building on the horizon, perhaps not, but the same sense of a not-too-distant threat lingers. This is the evocation of At My Door, the latest offering from homegrown talent Samantha Marais. That’s not to imply that a lightness of touch is notably absent, either vocally or on guitar, rather that Marais’ music represents a superior and deeper kind of nu-folk than is likely to be found on desperate-to-be-hip TV ads.
At My Door is the self-produced, home-recorded follow-up to 2007′s The Peppermint Conspiracy and is very much in the same vein, although perhaps a more settled effort. Marais’ style and technique shows more maturity and self-assuredness this time around, reflecting the changes in her personal and professional life over the past few years. Since we last encountered her music, Marais has relocated from London to Bristol where she has become embroiled in the cultural milieu of the city’s Stoke’s Croft area. Here, she founded the Coexist Music Collective and has been working closely with boyfriend Henry Dingle in their duo, Sam & Henry. So closely, in fact, that Dingle’s own new album is packaged alongside this one, bound together by ribbon, when purchased from a real-life record store.
Like its predecessor, At My Door opens with a brief interlude. ‘The Luckiest One’, with its music-box tune and childlike rhyme sung rather disconcertingly in an adult’s voice, wastes none of its mere twenty seconds in instilling that sense of looming turbulence. This quickly gives way to the transient lightness of ‘Cool Breeze’, a sunny head-nodder that’s the closest Marais ever comes to a single, before the rays are duly banished and the pace relinquished to more pensive material with the devotional ‘My Eternity’. Once re-established, the introspective, melancholy mood pervades right up to ‘A Little Of You’, a five-track run of delicate beauty and gathering clouds that finally gives way to something approaching the folk-pop levity of ‘Cool Breeze’. What ‘A Little Of You’ really represents, though, is the calm before the breaking of the long-awaited storm.
Inspired by the works of Argentine writer Jorge Louis Borges, and containing an excerpt of his poetry in the outro, ‘Black Swan’ arrives without the fanfare of a raging torrent. It doesn’t need to. Leaving no clear air in its wake, merely the feeling of a threat that has narrowly passed without harm, it’s sultry like a rumbling summer squall and undeniably epic in feel. As the album’s key song, at last dispersing the tension built up over the preceding songs, it feels like a natural conclusion. But it’s not. Both the title track and closing instrumental ‘Moth In Flight’ serve as a kind of postscript to the main event, as if allowing us to glimpse the metaphorical blue skies beyond the shifting shape of Marais’ most magnificent nimbus. And what do you know? It turned out pretty nice again.
[Self-released; April 4, 2011]
Tagged samantha marais