Thursday, April 23, 2015

Laura Marling - Short Movie (2015)

I've found myself engaged in a lot of discussions about British singer/songwriter Laura Marling as of late. Considering her status as a critically acclaimed creative darling that's hardly surprised but during the build up to her most recently released album Short Movie - her fifth and most distinctively experimental I've found myself both defending her creative choices and agreeing in part with her detractors in equal measure. One of my favorite qualities of Marling's songwriter is her penchant for wistful fully formed narratives and with each subsequent release and with Short Movie in particular she positions herself further and further away from that particularly character.

Marling has established herself from her earliest days as an album artist. True during her tours she breaks out tracks that might later find themselves on future works or might never find themselves to be released at all but she releases album with a startling amount of consistency - two years time generally with the exception of A Creature I Don't Know which was actually meant to come out the same year as I Speak Because I Can but was delayed until a year later. As I listened to "Short Movie", the title track from her latest album it occurred to me exactly what Marling's game is here: while there's no telling how many songs Marling works on/out between album cycles, Marling appears to be working the creative kinks out of her system/songwriting through her albums. I Speak Because I Can and A Creature I Don't Know had very solid overarching ideas - themes and subjects that reoccurred throughout and a definitive narrative you could essentially watch play out over the course of an album. Short Movie continues and perhaps the much more elastic qualities of Once I Was An Eagle. The album as a vehicle for creative exploration is a quality truer to the old school folkies Marling styles herself after and people often compare her to but ultimately fail to actually realize.

The narrative of "Short Movie" is tenuous - the rush of coalescing insecurities given musical form. "Who the hell do you think you are? Just a girl who can play guitar" Marling offers in a moment of fiery clarity. It's a prevalent device Marling draws from multiple times like "False Hope". While such moments are sure to be polarizing, there's moments where Marling's experimentations rewardly largely - in album opener "Warrior" the subtle application of vocal effects grants Marling a dreamy Scheherazade place setting, the spoken word pitter-patter of "Strange", to the bluesy "Don't Let Me Bring You Down". Marling revisits her lovesick well on tracks like "I Feel Your Love" and "Walk Alone" in a one-two punch of emotional tug of war. From mysterious vagueness to borderline confessional, Marling offers different tastes of contorting visions of love - a purifying force, a uncomfortable tether, an all-consuming ache, a distant nagging feeling. On Short Movie, Laura Marling has changed a lot - her musical collaborators, the place she calls home, but what ultimately endures is Marling's fascination with love. It's through its examination that Marling glimpses the strongest and most fallible parts of herself; the rebellious spirit and the nay-saying doubter.

While there's a tendency to cherry pick favorites from every album Laura Marling's released thus far (like the exceptional, stellar four song suite that opens Once I Was An Eagle) Short Movie might very well be the first album Marling's released that really relies of the album structure. It's in the context of the album that tracks like "Short Movie" and "False Hope" gleam like diamonds where they previously only seemed to provided glimpses of potential. Ultimately Short Movie is a lot less experimental than the stream of consciousness-esque lyricism of "Short Movie" hinted at. And yet there's no doubt that there's a refreshing quality to the album and much more willingness openness. Marling has shied away from being defined by her relationships to the point that Once I Was An Eagle was an exercise in torturous vagueness but on Short Movie, she balances emotional with narrative honest. Her songs might not all be about her (she's been known to do that before) but they could be or they could be anyone and therein lies the key. Short Movie relies far less on heavily dressed up metaphors and instead offers up echoes of emotion. Even with an urge to depart from the status quo - that's where Marling's lyrical prowess is at peak effectiveness and the words appear to come easiest. So even as Marling continues to explore her narrative and compositional potential, universality is her anchor to pitch-perfect songcraft.

Laura Marling's fifth studio album Short Movie is out now and available to purchase from Ribbon Music.

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