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Laura Marling

+ {LUMP}

With maturity and soul beyond her tender years, Hampshire born and bred MARLING (1st February 1990 in Eversley) is part of a wave of young British artists who embraced their English folk roots but crossed over to enjoy mainstream audiences. Her simple but playful style, evokes as much the spirit of BILLY BRAGG as it does JONI MITCHELL or NORMA WATERSON.
MARLING was just sixteen when her first few fizzing tunes posted on MySpace caught the attention of the listening public and she initially cut her live teeth as part of a supposed new west London folk movement (although she lived in Reading) roughing it with the likes of Jamie T, MUMFORD & SONS and as part of NOAH AND THE WHALE. She drifted from the latter act as her music took centre stage and her relationship with frontman Charlie Fink went sour; the man’s finest hour, `The First Days Of Spring’, was said to be written in response to the couple’s break up.
MARLING’s brittle but heartfelt debut album ALAS I CANNOT SWIM {*7} arrived in 2008 to considerable acclaim, receiving a deserving Mercury Music Prize Award nomination (she was er… Elbow’d out) owing much to tracks such as the BEIRUT-esque `Crawled Out Of The Sea’, lead singles `Ghosts’ and `My Manic & I’.
In late 2009, she teamed up with producer Ethan Johns – the son of Glyn, nephew of Andy Johns – to expand her barebones style with a collection of crisp, bright and thoughtfully arranged songs for I SPEAK BECAUSE I CAN (2010) {*8}. Marcus Mumford showed up to lend some backing vocals, but at the heart here was a set of songs rich with narratives about everything from celebrations of her relationship with her father – `Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’ – to a woman’s letters to her husband during World War II (`What He Wrote’). Once again she received a Mercury nomination, but lose out to The XX this time around.
2011 saw more plaudits – Best Solo Artist at the NME Awards and beating Girls Aloud’s Cheryl Cole to Best British Female Artist at the Brit Awards – but the hyperbole was justified. Laura came out of the traps full formed, with a deep understanding of songcraft, indeed the odds are her best was yet to come. This was proved prophetic when her third in as many years, A CREATURE I DON’T KNOW (2011) {*7} raced into the Top 5. Reminiscent of JONI MITCHELL (a la LEONARD COHEN mood), the lush arrangements upon her codeine vox shined through on least three gemstones, `The Beast’, `Sophia’ and opener `The Muse’.
Building on her reputation as the English equivalent of Joni (a la Laurel Canyon era), MARLING seemed at ease “Pentangling” and “Meddle-ing” (PINK FLOYD c.1971) on her “Led Zeppelin III”-esque fourth set, ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE (2013) {*8}. Transporting her Sunday breakfast brigade back to the early 70s when the West Coast woke up to a singer-songwriter frenzy, L.A. import Laura has finally won over an American audience with this Top 50 entrée (Top 3 in Blighty). Over an hour long and cathartic as ever, the quasi-concept set has several cuts that’ll send her fans (old and new) into a quiver. From the sombre `Take The Night Off’ and the mystical title track, to the riveting `Breathe’ and `Master Hunter’, the intimate record was of two halves. Of the second portion, she weaved her magic on the searching, `Undine’, `Where Can I Go?’, `Pray For Me’ and the delicious `When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been)’. Timeless compositions.
Stated as transitional and stemming from her long isolative months in Los Angeles, one can almost taste the loneliness in her reflective co-produced fifth set, SHORT MOVIE (2015) {*7}. Adding on occasion, a punk-y Chrissie Hynde-like edge (example the explicit `Don’t Let Me Bring You Down’ and the f-in’ title track), maybe Laura was anticipating forthcoming festival fans relaying their own lines. Anyhow, it was tut-tut for a quality artist to break from folk tradition. While one can’t help mentioning her spiritual links to JONI MITCHELL, SANDY DENNY, NICK DRAKE, Laura aspires to break free from the shackles of her heroines and heroes – but not just yet. Opening salvo `Warrior’, and on to `False Hope’, `How Can I’ and `Worship Me’, these at least will clearly keep the spirit and mystique of Laurel Canyon intact.
Swapping the corporate safety of Virgin Records for her fledgling More Alarming Records was a gamble worth taking for the ambitious LAURA MARLING, who co-produced her simmering fifth set, the Top 5 SEMPER FEMINA (2017) {*8}, alongside Blake Mills. Taking her lead from a male prospective, Laura oozed simple, soulful sophistication within comfortable songs such as `Soothing’, `The Valley’, `Don’t Pass Me By’, `Next Time’, `Nouel’ and `Nothing, Not Nearly’ – just don’t mention JONI MITCHELL.
If Laura seemed always in the shadow of you-know-who, then her dual collaboration with TUNNG’s Mike Lindsay on eponymous electronica side-project set, LUMP (2018) {*8}, had reviewers stunned for words; especially when the record – all 31 minutes of it – sneaked into the Top 20. The angelic and dazzling Laura cut her cloth accordingly, fronting the Moogy overtones of Lindsay over at least three haunting cuts: `Late To The Flight’, `Hand Hold Hero’ and `Curse Of The Contemporary’.
The confessional LAURA MARLING was back to her exquisite best on solo return, SONG TO OUR DAUGHTER (2020) {*8}. And amidst the burgeoning perils of the outside world, her sublime and soothing singing voice was a comfort while most of her fans languished lonely in their parallel-world bedsitter. Although the digi-only set only registered a Top 30 place, maybe her Masters degree in psychoanalysis put her at an advantage on tracks such as `Alexandra’, `Strange Girl’ and the title track. Whereas the heart-tugging `Held Down’ recalled a coherent COCTEAU TWINS; if only in its harmonies, there was a sense her thoughts were elsewhere on the romantic but forlorn `The End Of The Affair’. Stop press: a physical edition that July gave her a belated Top 10 entry.
© MC Strong 2011/MR-GFD2 // rev-up MCS Aug2012-Apr2020

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