Sunday, September 4, 2011

Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know (2011)

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After the release of such a masterful album like I Speak Because I Can I expected a rather lengthy break from British songstress Laura Marling. And yet she quickly offered up a new batch of songs all connected by the rather dark emotions that were merely hinted at on I Speak Because I Can.

"The Muse" with its jazzy piano accompaniment and engaging semi-anecdotal style sets A Creature I Don't Know to be an entirely different animal than its predecessor. With its bluesy swagger and heavy piano chords, Marling wastes no time in introducing the thematic Beast.
"Don't Ask Me Why" and dramatic foil "Salinas" function as question and answer. In "Salinas" no one seems to ask why things are the way they are and Marling’s questions are unanswered while "Don't Ask Me Why" asserts that you don't really want to know the answers.
“Night After Night”, the album’s main emotional key piece, does a much better job of illustrating the album’s major theme than “The Beast”, eloquently summed up in the lyrics “Oh, I should just leave you instead of deceive you/But I don’t”.
“The Beast” serves as Marling’s first candid reference to lust (veiled allusions to it being in “The Muse” and “Sophia”). Dressed up with abrasive electric guitar riffs, the purpose of "The Beast" seems to serve as major plot point. In its narrative, the narrator means to invoke Sophia (Goddess of Wisdom) but is sidled with an uncontrollably beast whom she cannot seem to overcome. Marling’s advice is merely to look away.
Despite its kids-pop title, “My Friends” is about much more: The one true moment of apology on the album or rather of openly displayed guilt, “My Friends” is a mysterious and confusing tangle of characters and situations. Quickly asserting that she would leave “you” for them, it’s not quite clear who she intends to leave for the other: her friends or her lovers or the reason for the guilt.
With the album’s various references to mothers and motherhood, “Rest in the Bed” is the first track to put it in context of Marling’s age. A mother’s song to her unborn baby, the mother grants the use of her body under the promise that the baby will keep her warm and good. An odd mix of selfishness that’s kind of touchingly sweet.
Laura Marling’s knack for witty one-liners reaches a whole new level on “Sophia”: transforming simple actions into dramatic statements. In “Sophia”, the album’s hints of rage come bubbling to the surface in a startling display of denouncement. A refined denouncement tinged with kerosene-and-a-burning-match fury.
Leading perfectly into “All My Rage”, a truly joyous moment on a fairly dark album, where the narrator sets aside all her anger and fury despite a rather impressive set of offenses. But in her celebration, the narrator reveals a darker part of her character: “Stole my children, left my son/Of all of them he’s the only one/ Who didn't that mean that much to me” and ponders if it’s all a cosmic joke before accepting it for what it is. Marling’s narrator doesn’t make any promises to be better though. She merely decides to set her anger aside regarding her unfortunate circumstances. And so while jovial and triumphant, you’re left to wonder.

Whereas I Speak Because I Can was grounded and artfully mundane, A Creature I Don't Know calls upon angels, devils, goddesses, and other beings of mythic proportions for Marling's introspective character studies. While it's not clear how much of Marling's songs are inspired by her real life, her songs, with their careful handling of symbolism and metaphor, are brilliantly novel-esque and yet completely relateable. Marling's women aren't as completely blameless as they appeared on I Speak Because I Can. In a lot of ways A Creature I Don't Know is about balance. Sure there's the obvious balance between good and the darker parts of human nature but Marling also balances her women stupendously. They aren't overemotional or irrational, they aren't saints, but they also aren't weak. It says a lot about Marling's songwriting prowess that she can create these three-dimensional characters that even while admitting their failings and vices, never come off as excessively feminine or tragically weak. While I originally had doubts about how good the album would be (based pretty much wholly on Marling's ability to create as brilliantly conceptualized an album as I Speak Because I Can), I see now that those doubts were unnecessary. Marling's superior lyricism and musicianship has guaranteed an album worthy of praise.

You can now stream Laura Marling's third album before it's September 13th release(if you're in the US or Canada) on the NY Times website here.

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