The days that Laura Marling releases new albums are happy days indeed. She’s only 25 years of age and now has 5 studio albums under her belt. To give some perspective, I left my apartment only twice this weekend and one of those times was to go buy Ben & Jerry’s. How to describe the mystical allure that Laura Marling exudes through her savage yet gentle guitar and the quiet strength present in her voice.
“Short Movie” is her first album in two years, time which she has spent moving between the UK and the US and discovering what it is like to live in LA (which, I’m not going to lie, is the last city in the US I would have expected Marling to wish to call home). Maybe there’s something to be said for the celebrity-ridden city and its polar opposite aesthetic to London, it seems to have given Marling a sense of cheeky confidence if her new album is anything to go by.
“False Hope” is the second track on the album, and while opener “The Warrior” had its merits it isn’t until “False Hope” that I, as a longtime fan of Laura Marling, breathed a sigh of relief and whispered to myself “thank god she’s done it again”. It’s a wholly different sound, it’s far more rock and roll and less breathy young vocals. Her voice is strong, confident, there’s a twang of the Americana rock’n’roll in there as she switches between an airy soprano and a direct harsh speaking voice. The opening of “I Feel Your Love” harkens back to the days of “Alas I Cannot Speak” and as Marling starts singing “Keep your love around me/So I can’t be alone” it’s familiar, a warm coat, how comforting is her totally unique ability to pierce right to the heart of the matter. There’s a resurgence of the folk movement in music happening currently that has been around far before Mumford & Sons, but definitely made popular by them. Laura Marling has been around this entire time, captivating crowds with her ethereal live performances in small venues and large festivals alike (and I’ve been lucky enough to see her play both).
“Strange” is the black sheep of the album, and her discography. Not necessarily in a bad way but it’s something completely different. She presents a similar story as in “New Romantic” – she’s playing the distant woman, the character who enjoys human interaction but has no interest in maintaining the relationship. The Laura Marling of “New Romantic” was hurting and no longer interested in the work that went into relationships – as she said “maybe I should give up giving…I will never love a man/Because love and pain go hand in hand/And I can’t do it again.” Now she’s the dominant persona – in “Strange” she sings, “You get it all and you realise you haven’t opened up your eyes since you were young and it’s so bright,” a note to herself or just a general message she’s throwing out into the universe? Either way, her character and maturation is so obvious from album to album. It’s like watching a friend grow up and grow up so damn well.
“But should you fall in love with me/Your love becomes my responsibility/And I could never do you wrong/Do you know how hard that is?” this all being delivered in a brash pseudo-monotone so different from her usual fae-like singing voice.
This is her Bob Dylan transition, the album has electronic elements to it and is no longer just the acoustic folk sound she brought to the table before. “Don’t Let Me Bring You Down” even sounds a little bluesy, thanks to the bass guitar bubbling away in the background. Rumour has it she scrapped an entire album before starting on “Short Movie” because she didn’t think she would be able to live up to the press hype that “Once I was an Eagle” received in 2013. While all Laura Marling fans collectively will weep over these lost records, this is a more than fair replacement.
Describing her music to people is difficult though, because she is one of those rare performers who is able to wholly transform their sound, their subject matter, and therefore intrinsically themselves for each album. At 16, she released “Alas I Cannot Swim” and at 25 “Short Movie” is in so many ways just as high quality an album, but it is so insanely different. Her lyrics in her first two albums had a definitive maturity to them but she was still so naive in so many ways (but when I think about myself at age 16, I must bow in stunned silence at the even basic maturity she showed). This is not to say she is still not capable of her old sound, “Divine” is a harkening back to the slow melodic sound of her early days with a little spin reminiscent of Dido, thanks to the muffled humming and backing vocals.
Title track “Short Movie” is one of her more aggressive songs, she’s had songs where her anger and passion showed in the ripple of the guitar strings or the percussion or crescendo of the band but Laura Marling forcefully singing “it’s a short fucking movie man” repeatedly is new. My personal highlight of “Short Movie” though is “False Hope”, but who knows…after the inevitable binge listening that I will partake in of this album my thoughts could change. All I know is Laura Marling has had an attitude change, and I like where it’s taking her.