Thursday, February 3, 2011

Featured Artist: Laura Marling

-Laura Marling-

Laura Marling had just turned 18 when she released her 2008 debut, but it seemed like she'd already lived four or five lifetimes.

By then, she had somehow digested the entire canon of British folk music along with her guitar lessons, in the process becoming world-weary enough to write lines like “The gods that he believes never fail to disappoint me” and “Don’t cry child, you’ve got so much more to live for / Don’t cry child, you’ve got something I would die for.”

And in between touring the globe and being touted as the young queen of a new-folk revival (and shattering the heart of her then-boyfriend/producer, Noah and the Whale’s Charlie Fink, indirectly giving us one of 2009’s best symphonic breakup albums, First Days of Spring), she found it in herself to make yet another gorgeous, melancholy, old-souled record.

Despite its uncanny emotional weight, Alas has its moments of glittering girlishness and sounds at times like it was recorded in an upstairs bedroom at her parents’ house. I Speak Because I Can trades in references to broken dolls for tales of real live babies found in the forest and the yearning for a “Tap at my Window,” for the love of a “Rambling Man.” Fellow new-folk vanguards Mumford & Sons (who released their own excellent album earlier this year) reprise their occasional role as Marling’s backup band, providing urgent, dirty-fingernailed accompaniment—banjos, shuddering organ and occasional brotherly backing vocals—to her lovely, blustery voice and pace-setting guitar (strummed and finger-picked, both with increasing confidence). Marling avoids both precocity and self-seriousness, even when she sings, on the wrenching “Hope in the Air,” “I forgave you your shortcomings and ignored your childish behavior / Laid a kiss on your head and before I left said, ‘Stay away from fleeting failure.’”

Reading-based songstress Laura Marling has been likened to veteran folksters Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. Despite such hyperbolic accolades, her entry into the crowded world of young female singer-songwriters has been remarkably hushed and wonderfully organic. Having started writing songs at the age of 15, Marling's success has been achieved not by shouting, but by whispering her way through the ranks. Perhaps because of her youth--she turned 18 just before releasing thisAlas, I Cannot Swim--Marling has an understated yet accomplished manner that just doesn't grate like some of her peers. Plus her songs are good--very good. Backed by imaginative arrangements from leftfield acoustic outfit Noah and the Whale, the tracks here are often coyly charming, though far from naïve. Marling digs impressively deep into all kinds of universal topics, from religion and parents to love and romance. Lead single "Ghosts" introduced to many her soft, alluring vocal style, and other songs here share the same sense of intimacy, even if they differ thematically and musically. Things are kept simple throughout (think acoustic strums and a homespun delivery), but there are subtle and beautiful contrasts throughout; the Beirut-esque carnival aura of "Crawled out of the Sea" and the brooding "Night Terror", for example, which provide darker counterpoints to airier fare like the folksy title track and the compelling "My Manic & I". Disarming yet deep, provocative yet peaceful, Alas places Marling head and shoulders above the bawlers and wailers. --Paul Sullivan
Easy, breezy,

No comments:

Post a Comment