by Jowan Mead
Following a near decade of writing standalone poetry, London based psychotherapist, Laura Fell, has converted to songwriting for debut album, Safe from Me. In addition to bearing the responsibility of being Fell’s first musical chapter, Safe from Me is also the flagship release from Balloon Machine Records – a recent convert to labelhood following a productive year as an indie music blog
Across Safe from Me’s eight tracks, Fell explores an array of different sounds within the trappings of contemporary alt-folk. Classic confessional ballads can be found in Until Now and title track, but the collection stands at its most engaging when it errs towards the experimental.
Case in point, Cold, conveys a creeping plea for warmth, taking inspired arrangement cues from the best of Tom Waits’ output. Staccato strings and household percussion meet the rise and fall of Fell’s voice to produce a unique and emotional cut that’s certainly the strongest on the record. Meanwhile, initial single, Bone of Contention, is a righteous character assassination that sounds like a dream-filtered take on The Bends-era Radiohead, and Americana-esque Every Time keeps the album moving with a subtly mixed sidestick train beat that’s supported through every lull by plucky electric guitars.
Everything’s helped along by beautiful production – soft, acoustic guitar and Fell’s velveteen lyrical delivery are the twin threads tying the collection together, and both are treated with the utmost tenderness and respect. Safe from Me boasts performances from a troupe of hired-gun classical musicians throughout, yet still manages not to muddy the intention of the songs by way of flugelhorn or saxophone. Instead, these arrangement decisions give Fell’s songwriting a timeless lift.
Given Fell’s career in outsourced introspection, it’s natural that this record spends the bulk of its time looking inwards. The songs on offer here usually eschew extended metaphor in favour of direct and cutting truths, with the most resounding ones often left to conclude each song. Cold speaks to the all-too-common experience of being unable to solve our own problems (‘I can’t find the answers for myself – it’s easier to help somebody else’), while Every Time speaks to internal stagnation (‘and every time a lesson can be learned, I forget to write it down’). There’s a skill in expressing complex feelings through concise language, and it’s one Fell excels in.
Fell’s greatest asset is her voice: a rich and distinctive contralto that handles twee duets like Left Foot Right Foot just as well as rumination torch songs like Glad and I Didn’t Mean To. When placed alongside car-radio chorus hums (Glad), understated hooks (Until Now) and Mellotron-style orchestral lifts (Bone of Contention), it brings a rare shade of personality to a genre that all-too-often lacks individuality. Ultimately, Safe from Me is a strong and intricately arranged debut that paints a thorough portrait of the artist’s internal struggles.
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