Listening to the development of Laura Marling’s music is one of the greatest joys of my life, and the latest album did more than meet expectations, it exceeded them. Approaching what it means to be a woman from a somewhat male perspective, Marling examines femininity beautifully with a masterpiece of enchanting, captivating songs. A perfect blend of her folk-y, Joni Mitchell-esque roots that fans will know and love, and a move toward the heavier elements of her music previously explored in her last album, Short Movie, showcase her musical evolution to one of determined, feminine, maturity. This mix is most present in Nothing, Not Nearly, arguably one of Marling’s most powerful songs to date and, in my opinion, the stand out track of the album. Marling has stated that she reads a lot of poetry and would have liked to have been a writer had the music career not worked out, and thank God it did, and the album reflects this; her lyrics are poetic and unusual. This, along with detailed guitar work, delicate harmonies (most evident in The Valley) and Marling’s charming voice, make for a perfect album. I, as always, cannot wait to see what she will do next.
Picks: Nothing, Not Nearly, Wildfire, Next Time, Nouel.
Marling’s Semper Femina, translating to “always a woman” is a nod towards feminist themes and asks questions of sexuality and gender, amongst other Marling-esque themes of love, fear of intimacy and losing autonomy. Whilst there are artists emptily incorporating feminism in their music, Marling’s take on the feminist angle is subtle. She observes women, singing about the way she looks and feels towards them, and in turn, looks towards herself. However, she doesn’t in fact actually explore feminism in the way that I had hoped – the ‘feminist lens’ is more of an introspective lens where her protagonist is herself. I can’t discredit her unique and poetic take on songwriting but to set a statement with such a title as semper femina, I was disappointed. Despite this, the production of the album is instrumentally powerful and stunning, deserving a 5/5. Best tracks include Soothing, Don’t Pass Me By and Nothing, Not Really – tracks embodying the departure from her usual folk style. I hoped however, that the whole album would be more electronic, considering she set such a statement in her previous album. I can’t say that I am the biggest Marling fan, but I can appreciate the brilliant dichotomy present in her album. It’s idiosyncratically Marling with her ambivalent lyrics, whilst also incredibly divergent. But as an album overall, I can’t say that I was overly impressed.
Picks: Soothing, Don’t Pass Me By, Nothing, Not Nearly
I have a new love, and it’s Laura Marling. My heart has been stolen by her soulful, seductive voice, her louche lyrical style, and the crescendos of lazy-at-first acoustics in the songs of Semper Femima. It amazes me that, after having been creating music for 11 years, she still manages to produce such beautiful, enduring folk music. The songs of her latest album are each distinctive, but have an underlying similarity of mood that gives the record an elegant coherence. The album is personal and introspective, as all the best music from this genre is, and guides the listener through Marling’s fracturing relationships and traversing of life.
By its closing song, Nothing, Not Nearly, the album has cemented its soul and feeling enough to make the final track its strongest, most transcending as it rides on the intense emotions of songs like Wild Once and Nouel have created. Soothing is almost definitely my favourite (although it was hard to choose), as its contrast of percussion and strings arrangements, combined with the surreal vocals, make it original and memorable in the best kind of way.
Picks: Soothing, Nothing Not Nearly
Unfortunately, I’d be hard-pressed to say that British folk is currently having any sort of renaissance. Fortunately, Laura Marling has been holding down the fort for the past few years, and her latest effort is no exception. Experimentation graces Semper Femina in a wonderful way. Soothing’s minimalist pattering soon gives way to rolling orchestration and glistening electronics, setting the tone for some of the record’s more out-there excursions. The chilling atmosphere fluctuating throughout Always This Way is complemented by plenty of charming melody, whilst Next Time’s simplicity is nicely augmented by a sweeping extended bridge.
Apart from the brilliant songwriting, Marling has a stellar voice, so it’s a shame she can’t seem to decide what to do with it. She spends the duration of Semper Femina vacillating between English lilt and the ever-popular transatlantic drawl, and although the latter occasionally sounds a little contrived, the vocal breadth does inject a nice sense of variety. The more noticeable detraction is her occasional deviance from melody altogether. Her singing on Wild Fire and Wild Once is characterised by amelodic spoken parts which I suspect are attempts to punctuate the songs with some extra character, but which simply make her sound deflated.
Ultimately, though, Semper Femina’s flaws are pretty forgivable. Marling’s choice to bring a bit of experimentation to the fore has paid off very well creatively, and may even end up attracting as big of an audience as it deserves. Here’s hoping.
Picks: Soothing, Always this Way, Nouel
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Laura Marling is an inspiration for people from every walk on life and I can safely say that she is one of my favourite singer-songwriters (sorry Ed Sheeran). Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of her previous album, Short Movie, so I was hoping that Marling would change my mind with this new album. With Semper Femina, we get a glimpse of the Laura Marling we all fell in love with in 2007, along with a new and evolved side of her that we hasn’t seen before. The first song, Soothing, sets an appropriate tone for the album and prepares the listener for what could possibly be the most versatile album of Marling’s career.
The Valley (the second song) is a stark contrast to the heavy, groovy bass line of Soothing, with a more folk-like vibe to it. Despite staying true to her folk roots, Marling has demonstrated a beautiful culmination of acoustic sounds with synth-pop influences scattered along the way. Every song on the album is bound together by the common theme of what it’s like to be a woman, which is reflected in the title itself (that translates from Latin into Always Woman). Her sixth album marks a turning point in Marling’s career and this couldn’t have come at a better time (culturally and politically). What pleases me the most about this album is that we get to see not only Marling’s perspective of an outsider on what it’s like to be a woman, but her own experiences being projected onto her lyrics.
Picks: Nouel, Nothing, Not Nearly, The Valley