It’s been almost three years now since the last release of original material from Kent-based acoustic singer-songwriter Natalie Evans. However she wastes no time in addressing her delay, pointing out in the first few sentences just how common it is to lose sync with the progression of time: “I wear to sleep that purple t-shirt you associate me with. Now I’m trying to work out how old it is”.
Wake Up plays the part of a somewhat fitting introduction, both to the record and to first-time listeners of Natalie’s music. In less than two minutes one can arrive at the assumption that she is at her most conscious when submerged in unattainable thought. It is the ability to ask any question, the motion of thinking and unravelling the incomplete that keeps her sailing onward. To paraphrase, it’s the “exercise that wakes her up”.
Unsurprisingly the theme reappears in many moments on the EP, yet at no point does it ever come across as overused or repetitive. In fact it feels much more unique to Natalie’s identity at present, each social examination summoning provocative and occasionally beautiful sentences. Lines range from enthusiastic musings (“I played your songs as I looked into the distance, imagining them blasting through the houses” from the title track) to memories so vivid and intimate they feel recited from a lovers’ private diary (“We’re dreaming inside our headphones. They make our natural hair form so unnaturally” – Late Journeys).
It’s not just the choice of subjects that render these lines so pleasing. Just as much appreciation is owed to the delicate, congenial voice with which Natalie feeds her words through song after song.
Take the colourful love playground that is Butterfly for instance. Here Natalie sings with the most jovial optimism as she fantasises the idea of being a conduit used to spread love and kindness to all living things. The message is adorable, and a perfect match for Natalie’s unique, almost child-like inflection. In fact at times Natalie’s hold on the melody is so sweet in the build up towards the end of the song that one could easily mistake her as someone much younger than the real sum of her years.
Consistently she is able to pull together fascinations of impossible enactment and disguise them in a cloak of curious naivety. Yet at no point does this same storytelling come across as either contrived or deliberate. Instead it presents itself as something more closely resembling intellect. Natalie is, after all, merely an admirer of her own illusion. And for the cynics still brave enough to question her legitimacy, the contrast of a line such as “nothing weighs a thing ‘cause it’s a daydream. I feel amazing, so youthful, free and able” with “when I try in the real world I just land on my optimistic head” stand to reaffirm that Natalie is a little more in check with the hardships of life than many mistake her for.
Natalie’s imagination has always been somewhat bewildering. One only needs to recall a certain passage or two from the words of Headcase – the standout number from her earlier EP back in 2010 – to realise that an overtly playful, and occasionally flippant style of wordplay isn’t exactly a first for her: I mean casually telling your listeners that your ex-lover once made you into a plant, only for you to grow tired and weary of the lifestyle and eventually feed yourself to a random mountain goat through pure spite… well, it isn’t exactly without its humour is it?
Musically speaking Houses is a clear transition into more evolved territories for Natalie. Martin Ruffin’s finely layered and luscious production brings potent hints of ethereality to many of the songs here, refining the new direction. On Butterfly for example, a small coating of reverb suddenly sees the piece brought into vivid animation. As a colony of stringed instruments swarm in to greet the end of the first chorus the entire script thrusts into motion, and the imagery is that vivid I doubt you’d be a stranger to suggest you felt its life within your headphones.
Ruffin’s more elaborate studio space has also enabled Natalie to carve her more creative ideas into the fabric of the music this time round – ideas, I should point out, that were most likely overlooked in the past due to restrictions in home recording. First single Library Days makes light of this progression, closing out with a band of new additions from whistling violin harmonies to twinkling xylophone. The growth feels so perfectly fresh, like every next instrument that appears was previously sealed in some form of high-quality silk ribbon just moments before being unwrapped into the mix.
It provides an intrigue that captures the design of Houses altogether: Natalie’s first EP was heady in its ability to thrill so easily despite such minimal production. It enabled her to be showy with her abilities on guitar, opting to fully exercise the complex yet melodically touching possibilities inherent in the instrument. This time around however the focus is more set on constructing a visual landscape when it comes to arrangement. Each composition is a new lens with which we are presented an insight into not only the beauty of her background and product, but the subtle, intimate affections we all simply overlook way too often in the common exchanges of our relationships.
Houses closes with its title track, a sincere and lovable anthem of self-evaluation, and the moment that probably best represents Natalie as the budding and unique figure she’s gradually turning out to be, instrumentally and lyrically. The introduction jams to the beat of a finger-snap as complex acoustic guitar riffs meander back and forth, Natalie’s vocal darting in at any potential pause for air. And then, in stark contrast, the pieces tip into a peaceful illusory haze for the remaining half. And she breathes, blushing as she signs off: “I imagine if I tried I would over think everything, accept the way I’m travelling and never find my house again”.
And we smile back at her.