Monday, June 21, 2010

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can (2010)

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British songtress Laura Marling's follow up album to her 2008 solo debut Alas I Cannot Swim, I Speak Because I Can begins with the dark "Devil's Spoke", similar to traditional storytelling folk song style, made all the more haunting by Marling's earthy voice and the male backing vocals before migrating to a brighter, more hopeful tone where Marling caresses each lyric in the happier section. Rather than the lead track giving you an idea of what the album will sound like or where it'll go, the song's dual nature leaves you unsure of what to expect and anxious for what's to come. The response is "Made by Maid" which sparse guitar lines showcase Marling's voice and lyrics and sharply contrast the rather busy lead track down to its Dylan-esque sing-speak. "Rambling Man" is somewhat of continuation with a quiet slow-building intro before picking up tempo, texture, and instruments. "Blackberry Stone" with it's simple strummed chords featuring beautiful, lyrical cello lines functions as both Marling recounting the end of relationship but also a part of the explanation given to the person in question. "Alpha Shallows" continues in the heavy use of strings, "Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)" while using still featuring strings and the newly introduced clarinet, doesn't distract from Marling's vocals and might be the best written track on the album both musically and lyrically. "I wrote an epic letter to you, it was twenty two pages front and back but it's too good to be used/And I tried to be a girl who likes to be used/ I'm too good that, there's a mind under this hat/ And I called them and told them I've got to move" are by far the best lyrics she managed to slip in there. While no longer than the rest of the tracks on the album, it's composition might be, for lack of a better word, the most epic. Beginning with a clarinet solo, Marling voice enters to describe a scene between her and a lover accompanied by strings. Slowly the song adds more to it like additional instruments, voices, rising to a musical climax that is musical, lyrical, and emotional. "Hope In The Air" follows with swaggering guitar and almost whispered vocals like Marling is letting you in on a secret, this track marks the return to the more traditional folk style. "What He Wrote" might be an embellishment of the non-speaking man introduced in the previous track, describing his "journey" so to speak and the narrator's fascination with him. "Darkness Descends" brings the album to an upbeat mood. "I Speak Because I Can" serves as the album closer, is probably the most loose in Marling's storytelling style of songwriting beginning by mentioning a woman whose husband has left her before the remaining parts of the song are ambiguous in who they are talking about and to whom and that might be the purpose. The lyrics "I speak because I can to anyone who I trust to listen" might in this case refer to the listener, explaining things she never got to do. Interestingly several of the lines have an unfinished quality to them like perhaps the speaker is overcome by emotion and unable to say anymore before regaining composure and beginning a new topic. If you didn't listen to the lyrics, the listener would be fooled into thinking that the track is upbeat and positive rather than a tale about this lone woman wondering what she's going to do without her husband.
While each song on I Speak Because I Can can be listened to an understood seperately, it also functions as an overall story with the lead track's foreboding intro before metamorphosing into sentimental tracks pining for lost love, describing how it came to be. Several songs aremarked by repeated themes or words like the city ("Alpha Shallows", "Goodbye England", and "Darkeness Descends") or speaking/not speaking ("Hope in the Air", "What He Wrote", and "I Speak Because I Can"). The awesome thing about Marling's writing is that the song's can either related to as tales of love, love loss, etc. or can be treated a little folksy tales meant purely for entertainment. The whole album is enjoyable and entertaining but something to note is that I felt, the second half of the album was more lyrically developed than the first. Marling employs a narrative style of songwriting but the first half seemed more focused on getting the lyrics across than the music that accompanied it. This changes however and the music and lyrics work together to illustrate and form complete vignettes of remarkable songcraft.

Have a taste of Laura Marling with the music video of the second single off the sophomore release "Rambling Man":

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