Seven years on from brushing the competition aside with one fell swoop of her debut “Alas I Cannot Swim”, Laura Marling returns with her fifth album, all by the age of twenty five (are you kidding me?! This hardly seems fair). After what seemed like her artistic breakthrough with 2013’s blistering “Once I Was An Eagle”, apprehensions began to gather – surely she couldn’t keep up this pace? Sooner or later she’ll drop a dud record, it’s only a matter or time. For now, I’m afraid not. With her new record, “Short Movie”, whilst perhaps not quite dealing the sheer emotional blow of it’s predecessor, Marling has produced her richest, fullest sounding collection of work to date.
Much more than simply plugging in and “going electric” as has been well documented, her sound has developed and evolved in a much more natural, even spiritual way. Whilst her first few albums, brilliant as they are (both 2010’s “I Speak Because I Can” and 2011’s “A Creature I Don’t Know” were within my top albums of their respective years), they felt like she was still learning the ropes, concentrating on getting the songs down. Here, she has taken production duties into her own hands for the first time, and feels much more open to experimentation, willing to push her music into new, unexplored territory. Although, as I’m sure she’ll admit, the great Joni Mitchell remains a key influence, this feels more than ever like her record, and the new found sense of ownership of her sound presides over all tracks on the album. The sheer confidence with which she strides through the thirteen tracks here gives a great sense of authorship, as if there’s now no doubt you are listening to “a Laura Marling record”.
Opening track “Warror” highlights this point, as her simple, looping guitar line becoming increasingly enveloped by an otherworldly, psychedelic backing. In the centre of it all is Marling, cooling recounting a story from the point of view of a horse searching for it’s missing master – she’s clearly done with pining for an old flame here.
Much has been made of the decision to scrap the majority of material she was sitting on in the aftermath of “Eagle”, leave the UK and immerse herself in the spiritual world of Los Angeles. As has been mentioned before, this newfound connection with spirituality really comes to the fore in much of this new material – she seems undaunted now by the audiences perception of her, and is free to express her inner artistry to it’s fullest extent. Her voice is used as a proper instrument for the first time, bending and shifting unexpectedly – none more so than the high pitched plead of “I just need a little more time” at the end of “Walk Alone”. The only aspect that slightly jars is the semi-American accent adopted on a number of songs. It doesn’t particularly add anything to her sound, if anything slightly taking away from her own identity. But we’re pulling at straws here.
Lyrically she has always been a cut above the rest of her peers, and her new songs show a real sense of maturity. A residing theme, linked to the title, is that life is short lived – “Its a short fucking movie, man”, she hollers on the title track, somewhat driving the point home in style. Elsewhere she adopts a more playful tone on the likes of “Strange” – “you get it all and you realize, you haven’t opened up your eyes, since you were young and it’s so bright”, and attempts to find a way to recognise a strangers suffering “I hear you begging through the wall, a dying animal’s last call” on “False Hope”.
There’s so much going on inside this record that it really takes a good few listens to soak it all up, and it’s best viewed as a single piece of work – individual tracks work well on their own, but sat beside each other the dips and peaks in pace and range really make the most impact. For all it’s shape-shifting and experimental tones, this is a supremely consistent album for beginning to end.
Verdict – Marling has raised the bar yet once again, setting the benchmark for her entire generation. What’s most reassuring though, is that with already five albums down, it still feels like she’s just getting started. There’s plenty more to come from this one. 4/5