In May 2013, Laura Marling released her fourth album since signing for Virgin at the tender age of just 16. Once I Was An Eagle was the third in four albums to be nominated for the Mercury Prize and she was firmly being recognised as the first lady of the ‘new-folk’ scene. Even the mind-numbing BRIT awards had recognised her talents, awarding her Best British Female in 2011, over the likes of Cheryl Cole and Ellie Goulding, most likely boggling the minds of many Capital FM listeners.
However, despite Once I Was An Eagle coming almost two years after A Creature I Don’t Know and being as wonderful as its predecessors – receiving nominations galore and boasting 16 stunning, personal and highly-emotive tracks from the English starlet – something, just something, felt a little off. Controversial, maybe, but it just seemed maybe a little forced from behind the scenes; which would be understandable following the success of Alas I Cannot Swim, I Speak Because I Can and A Creature I Don’t Know.
Roll on 2014 and Laura Marling was back in the studio, again with long-time producer Ethan Johns, and beginning work on her fifth record already. But this time, it didn’t feel right to her. She has since talked of feeling trapped, exhausted and concerned that she had spent much of her life touring, writing or recording and hadn’t really taken the time to stop and breath the world in.
And so, she dropped it all. She moved to America, she met a boy, she applied unsuccessfully for a poetry course, she applied for several waitressing jobs, she left her boy, landed in LA and took in her surroundings, the people around her and herself. Writing and recording music was not a factor anymore, and she has spoken of almost giving it up altogether.
But after some weird, wonderful and worrying experiences, including psychedelics, befriending an old hippy and almost joining a cult, she began to get the itch once again. And so, now in mid-March 2015, Laura Marling is readying herself for the launch of her new, self-produced album, Short Movie.
What’s immediately clear is that her time away has helped her grow in confidence. She’s wonderfully blunt at times, declaring dreamily in album opener Warrior, ‘I can’t be your horse anymore, you’re not the warrior I would die for’. Ouch…wouldn’t want to be that guy. This confidence is echoed further in the delightfully direct Strange. No holds barred here either, as she declares without hesitation, ‘I don’t love you, like you love me, I’m pretty sure that you know.’ She’s ruthless and we like her all the more because of it.
Much has been said recently about bands going electric. If Laura Marling was being celebrated as the first lady of the ‘new-folk’ scene, then Mumford & Sons were taking the status of Princes, Presidents and Kings all in one – with banjos. But with time, their comparsions (and relationships) have faded. Now, they’re both back with new albums and…woah! They’ve gone electric!
In Laura Marling’s case however, her decision to pick up and plug in seems to have been a completely natural one, unlike the boys who are making too much of a noise, quite literally, about their choice to put on leather jackets and wallop things in a God-rock fashion. No, Laura Marling’s shift in sound is progression, welcomed with a hearty smile.
Released as the first single from Short Movie, False Hope describes Marling’s experiences as Hurricane Sandy smacked New York with a thud back in 2012. And accompanying her tale is a brilliant, driving electric riff, thunderous drums and powerful vocals that we haven’t seen from Marling before. What’s more, the equally brilliant Gurdijeff’s Daughter is another prime example of her musical progression. Though it could easily have been recorded with just an acoustic in hand, the decision to go with a roaming electric instead, seems absolutely perfect. It is the ideal accompaniment to Marling’s half-sung, warning vocals.
There is, however, still some signs of vulnerability in Short Movie. She asks, ‘How can I live without you?’ in How Can I, a song that confirms her desire to head back to London town, as she brings an end to her adventures, for now. Even in the gale-force drive of False Hope, Marling still shows signs of self-doubt, opening the track with the question ‘Is it ok that I still don’t know how to be alone?’ It is in these moments that she truly touches the listener, as she has done throughout her work. However, on this occasion, there is a feeling that her words are far more personal, rather than using English literature to create romanticised characters and situations in her songs, as she has done since 16.
The traditionalists will also be glad to hear that the acoustic is still very much a key component of this record. Marling plucks away delightfully during the honest Easy and the beautiful Divine. She has however used her recent experiences to develop her sounds. California seeps through this record, flowing from the open plains in Warrior, to the shoe-gazing, Jim Morrison styles of Howl At The Moon. These songs are full of dreams and wonder, painting a picture of the changing landscapes of the US east coast.
This isn’t the perfect album, but it’s not far off. Short Movie boasts wit, adventure, desire, intelligence, strength, loneliness and profound beauty. Marling is ruthless with her musical and personal progression at times, ‘Do you think I was fucking around? I’m a woman now’ she declares. But she also hasn’t lost that beautiful, sensitive quality. She does occasionally let her guard down, and it is in these moments we see speckles of her previous, and much loved work. She is a 25 year-old evolving in the world, and this record portrays it wonderfully.
It would come as no surprise if Laura Marling suddenly walked away from music one day, without hesitation or regret, simply to take another road. She’s come close before, so we must enjoy her talents now more than ever, and we can’t go much wrong with Short Movie.