I saw Laura J Martin play at Bestival back in 2010, looping flute and mandolin to her voice; if you have no patience for vocal oddity (Kate Bush, Joanna Newsom etc) you might find her pixieish otherworldly presence grating, otherwise listen on and you’ll be rewarded. Title track ‘Dazzle Days’ is wholly instrumental and feels a bit like music from classic children’s tv, all tin drums and whistles. ‘Half Perfect’ is a spooky, haunted tale, while ‘On Our Shoulders’ is a slightly unsettling tea party: “and all of the thoughts we feast on cannot sate us, while the watchful hound sits by the door”.
‘Puppet Dances’ is the most conventionally pretty song so far, like a lullaby, “double-crossed by the sweetness of the night”. All of Martin’s music sounds written for an imagined puppet play, flitting around like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ‘We Look Up’ is my favourite song yet, combining what sound like far-eastern influences with a catchy and melodic chorus which holds all its elements together. Here she really gets into full swing: ‘Aged Crow’ unexpectedly unleashes an encompassing electronic beat mixed with what sounds like a folktale from the Middle Ages. “Tables are turned and the butter is churning, how to find a name for this yearning? […] as the aged crow flies, it’s been too many miles”. It’s mad, but it works. There are wind chimes.
‘Hold It Dear’ starts almost a capella, back into more of a rough, homespun mood before ‘Sour Grapes’ begins, a demented carnival-like nursery rhyme: “I’ll suck the life right out of you,” Martin trills, cutely. It sounds happy, but the story is by turns creepy and sad: “We were children once, a sister and a brother, how does one turn out so different from the other? Go on home now, go on home”. ‘Dream of Sin’ carries on the carnivalesque feel with marching drums and bells; I like ‘Red Flag’ better, which is jaunty without being overloaded with jollity, playful in the best sense. ‘At The Close Of The Day’ is slower and focused on Martin’s lone voice, but there’s a homemade experimental feel to it that would fit well in a lineup beside the syncopated rhythms of Stealing Sheep. The sheer range of instruments in Dazzle Days is in itself pretty dazzling, as if Martin has unleashed a whole studio’s worth, like a child going mad with crayons and sequins; it could all be unbearably twee, except that I get the sense she’s not trying to be appealing or toothless in her playfulness. Instead she’s created an adventurous sound, with some real gems in it.
Words: Becky Varley–Winter