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Laura J Martin
Dazzle Days Stuart Huggett , November 20th, 2013 07:14

Rolling out a 'J' so you don't mix her up with the moneyed Marling, Liverpool's Laura J Martin is a songwriter, flautist and sometime member of Euros Childs' band. Recorded with Tunng's Mike Lindsay and synth historian Benge, her second album Dazzle Days is an intricate set of folk and chamber pop that both delights and frustrates.

While Martin's solo gigs use simply-looped flute and mandolin to carry her songs along, the arrangements on Dazzle Days are full bodied sweeps of billowing strings, clapping percussion and inky synth colouring. Once past the sunrise fanfare of 'Thaw', the first side of Dazzle Days contains her brightest and liveliest work, with the brassy 'Dream Of Sin' and playground skip of 'Sour Grapes' promising a more immediate thrill than the rest of the record delivers.

The latter song, however, also highlights Martin's tendency to mix smart lyrics ("domestic cannibals" who'll "suck the life right out of you"; an "oil-slick smile") with toe-curling ones ("We were all children once, a sister and a brother / Oh how does one turn out to be so different from another?"). Her playful vocals are also pitched more towards the Altered Images/Talulah Gosh school of indiepop than any kind of faux-folk seriousness, which makes such naive turns of phrase harder for weak stomachs to take. A piece like the swirling tale of the 'Aged Crow', meanwhile, is pure whimsy.

Despite these reservations, the shining enthusiasm of Martin and her collaborators carries most of the first side off. The second, slower half just drifts by, gentle bedtime tales like 'Half Perfect' and 'Puppet Dances' – pleasant as each is in isolation – blurring into a soporific haze when strung together. A deliberate pattern of the sequencing, for sure, but Martin's at her best when puffing her flute through breathless, breezy pop.

Still, Dazzle Days is a stronger, more finely detailed and diverse set than last year's debut The Hangman Tree and Martin is glorious company live. Like she says, half perfect.