Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle (2013)

It's a sort of strange sort of curse that regardless of what British folk songstress Laura Marling does to distance her personal life from that of her music and its subjects that that seems to be the first question on everyone's mind. Even on rather evidently narrative pieces such as I Speak Because I Can and A Creature I Don't Know, people still comb for some kind of personal significance in her words. Perhaps that's because of Marling's incredible knack for lyrical glancing blows, a seemingly unimportant phrase able to cut through Marling's pristine guitar melodies or sweet murmur and deal the listener's heart a crushing blow. With Marling admitting that her fourth and latest album Once I Was An Eagle is a far more honest record than records past, the questions certainly aren't going to stop any time soon.

With a four song intro that essentially behaves as nearly 16 minute lovelorn rhapsody, Marling returns in rare form, stripping her songs of their occasional grim character studies of her past two albums and providing for a far more universal consumption. Her talents for oddly poetic plainspeak fully on display under the helpful assistance of frequent collaborator, producer Ethan Johns. "I Was An Eagle" containing perhaps most rousing, biting lyricism in its "I will not be a victim of romance, I will not be a victim of circumstance, chance or circumstance, romance, or any man who can get his dirty little hands on me". It's enough to relegate the track's poignant metaphors to the background as its clearly the most hard-hitting yet softspoken lyric.

On album opener, "Take the Night Off", Marling's Beast (introduced on A Creature I Don't Know) returns if only in a name-checked fashion, in the track's opening lyric: "You should begone Beast, begone from me". Where Marling spent the whole of A Creature I Don't Know wrestling with the metaphorical Beast and its influence, it returns here accepted with very little struggle as Marling coos "Take the night off and be bad for me". All the while the four cohesive tracks rumble with a sort of Eastern-inspired flavor in Johns instrumental choices (like hurdy gurdy on "I Was An Eagle" or the pervasive but not overwhelming soft tap of hand drums).

By the time you reach fifth track "Master Hunter", Marling's flagrant spurning of all emotion seems justified, the track simmering and filled with a sort of pots and pans percussion. Only to be followed with the flamenco-esque ballad "Little Love Caster" which sort of undermines the surge of badassery and resolute singledom of "Master Hunter". It's a totally sensible, realistic backpedal that sort of forms the backbone of Once I Was An Eagle.

Despite Marling's claims that Once I Was An Eagle is a far more personal record than her past, the album carries the same narrative prowess she's been honing, following a clearly lyrical metamorphosis. Marling still resorts to using characters, drawing the Devil, the aforementioned Beast, and even referencing Undine but she strips them of their supernatural grandeur, relegating them to humanized versions of themselves used to illustrate the rise and fall of her aspirations, reoccurring regrets, and struggles.

It's not clear just how much Marling opens up on Once I Was An Eagle but it acts as an album of beguiling simplicity informed by works past as she confidently blends the lines between storytelling and emotive mood pieces. Once I Was An Eagle serves as meditation, lacking the venomous bite of I Speak Because I Can even it's most finger-pointing of tracks. She's removed from it, seemingly recalling the moments with nostalgia and a clearing distance. It works, providing an impetus to listen to the developing story rather than getting caught up in a flurry of emotion.

 You can stream the album in full over at The Guardian.

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