Laura Marling has just embarked on another branch of her evolution. One expects nothing less from the famed folk singer, who’s personal life has been the centre of her song-writing since her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim. In the interim between 2013’s Once I Was An Eagle and her newest release Short Movie, Marling has had plenty of fodder. This thirteen-track album sees Marling taking her marked brand of folk spiced up with hints of punk style anger, less subtle than on previous records.
For someone who consistently bears herself raw and ready for criticism in her music, Marling has crafted a completely unselfconscious album. It draws on the southern Californian sun, the palm trees, sand and the seedy city life of Los Angeles, intertwining it with London self-awareness and nostalgia. Marling evaporates into her music, just as much as her it becomes her.
‘Warrior’ is a perfect amuse-bouche for the remaining twelve tracks. Over five minutes long, the song doesn’t drag towards its end, but instead takes you on what feels like a narrative journey. “I’m just a horse with no name,” her near growl is evocative of Marling’s own discomfort with her place in the industry, but instead of taking a swipe at the world in which she exists, she transposes the themes into the surreal, and suddenly they become relatable.
There is a slow uphill march into the punk undertones of ‘False Hope’, perhaps one of the most palpable and visceral tracks on the album. Its straightforward lyrics take centre stage. The uncompromising self-reflection is illuminated by her voice, which, usually smooth as molasses, takes on a too-many-cigarettes after too-many-glasses-of-wine quality.
Marling searches for herself in ‘I Feel Your Love’, and you find yourself hitched to her begging to be let go. Her frustration, present in the quickly and precisely plucked guitar strings are underpinned by unwavering string drawn notes that tether the song, weighing it down into the world of the blues.
‘Don’t Let Me Bring You Down’ juxtaposes anger and self-deprecation as Marling’s voice takes on a joking, sarcastic sing-song tone, with odd intonations reminiscent of 90s girl powered ire. Where some, like Alanis Morissette, opt for neon signs that seem to misunderstand the subtleties of paradoxical terms, Marling is successfully able to tread the line between intellectually ironic and viscerally emotional lyrics.
Short Movie stretches its cohesive motifs through all thirteen tracks, without sticking to a plot or forced narrative structure. Instead, the themes of self-reflection and search for belonging and identity move you wantonly through the album. The songs can be rearranged and the album still retains its structure and nuance. ‘Easy’ evokes the sadness in growing up, a sort of musical rendition of Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill. ‘Divine’ operates in part as a definitive meta-song about Marling’s own song writing, but it is an elastic metaphor. It stretches and becomes bigger than just the ‘I’ of the song.
The eponymous track reprises Marling’s vocal playfulness. The profanities slip from her lips like autumn leaves in the breeze. There is nothing harsh about the song, despite its brash subject and lyrical content.
Short Movie culminates with ‘Worship Me’, a song that puts Marling’s sugary sweet voice on centre stage, with her twinkling guitar prowess as the subtle backdrop. There is something wild about her voice, the way it moves easily through the notes she sings – yet it never once loses control. Her invitation to “sit down and worship me” isn’t desperate. It’s a simple chant, a mantra to live life by. It would be a boast from anyone else, but coming from Laura Marling, it is an easy request to fulfill.