Album of the Week: Laura Marling, 'Semper Femina'

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Laura Marling, 'Semper Femina'
Laura Marling, 'Semper Femina' (More Alarming Records/Kobalt Music Recordings)
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Laura Marling honed her talents in the crucible of the same London folk scene as Mumford and Sons. She seemed to benefit from the association; as we told the story of Mumford's rise, Marling was another example of that particular creative moment.

Marling rode that folkie wave with her first three albums, garnering critical support and going Top 10 in the U.K., enough to take her around the world. She seemed to like visiting America and decided to stay here for a while — in fact, taking time away from music to try to be a yoga teacher in Los Angeles!

"I make my own way, so at the end of the day at least I can say that my debts have been paid," Marling sings on her latest album, Semper Femina; in interviews, Marling has described the need as an introvert to get away from the confines of any scene and find her place, alone. Now 27, those folk roots have been tinged with the lilt of the Cali canyon. A Joni Mitchell-like atmosphere pervades the record, a concise nine songs, all between four and five minutes. But there's also a touch of Patti Smith's spark, with a hint of Kate Bush's accent in places!?

It could've been a very soothing album; "Soothing" is the title of the lead track that we've been playing already. The spare acoustic guitar and lovely strings employed there make a perfect bed for Marling's gorgeous voice. You feel she could stay in this groove forever and it would be a delight, but she takes aim at our complacency every now and then by twisting our expectations of that sound. She suddenly swears — twice in one song! Then there's a few fidelity issues which stand out as glitches in paradise. She inverts your usual take on a song by firm pronouns making their plot ambiguous, and then a crazy electric-guitar solo comes in to scorch the final song.

Semper Femina translates to "Always Woman," and apparently this expression is inked on Laura Marling's leg, so it feels like this album is a mission statement. All the characters appear to be women, except that "Mean Pappa." And "Nouel" is a real friend who inspired some of the writing. On the song "Next Time," Marling sings "It feels like they taught us to ignore it … diligently" and "I can't close my eyes while the world around us dies."

It's on "Wild Once," song six, where she suddenly starts using a posh British accent, although done deliberately badly as if by an American actor; bravo! It also serves to twist the meaning of being "wild," for me as a Brit anyway. I'd noticed that she'd taken on Americanisms like "Momma and poppa" references earlier in track three, "Wild Fire." It's as if they are a pair of takes on the same subject, but from different accented positions — clever.

It feels like, as in yoga, she's tried on new poses by living a different style and kind of life here, and that now she's trying on new ways of using her gifts and searching her creativity for a new form of muse. Speaking of, another passion that has recently taken over her life is a podcast; "Reversal of the Muse," which looks at the way women work in recording studios and tries to encourage more to take up traditionally male roles.

It's an album of transitions, within Marling herself and between the characters of the songs. This may not be her masterpiece, but it is definitely her most accessible album yet. Follow Laura along the road she's traveling, a Mid-Atlantic soul disassociating herself from her roots in the nu-folk scene in the U.K. and taking a chance on the promises of the New World. Marling is still finding her feet here, but it's fun — and still soothing — to explore the new terrain with her.

Resources


Laura Marling - official site

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