After touring her last album, Laura Marling packed up and moved to LA. There, she stopped writing music, and didn’t tell any new acquaintances who she was. She took up yoga, learned Tarot, and got high, until her Father gifted her an electric guitar and she fell back in love with music. It could be seen as cliché to pack up and move countries to find yourself, but if it is, this album is proof that clichés can be good. Here, it’s great.
Short Movie starts with the strong and dark Warrior, which establishes a woman who is done with being used: “I can’t be your horse anymore, you’re not the warrior I’m looking for.” It’s a moody, slow start to pull the listener in. It leads on to the angry, electric False Hope. Her second single from the album, False Hope is completely different from the acoustic folk-rock Marling we got used to from her previous albums. Just as I’m assimilating to the new vibe, however, I’m shifted back to the acoustic, vaguely flamenco tones of I Feel Your Love, a song that would have fit nicely into Marling’s last album Once I Was An Eagle. We’re then slowed down even more to the vulnerable Walk Alone, which is stark and fragile: “I think you were wrong / you said I can’t love.”
The shift from Walk Alone to Strange highlights Marling’s unpredictability. Strange is a slightly chaotic song where Marling hardly sings at all. Despite this, it’s incredibly catchy and very musical. On to Don’t Let Me Bring You Down, Marling again shows vulnerability: “Living here is a game I don’t know how to play / Are you really not anybody until somebody knows your name?” Similar melodically to False Hope, this track has the same angry edge to it, with the deliciously honest refrain “Did you think I was fucking around?” repeated until the end. Again, Marling riles the listener up with her “fuck you” attitude, only to bring them back down to something intimate in Easy. Back on the acoustic hype, this song seems hopeful, but tinged with sadness as she questions herself again: “How did I get lost looking for God in Santa Cruz?”
This ebbing of highs and lows continues throughout the album, where the listener is thrown from the didactic Gurdijeff’s Daughter to the softer Divine which is the kind of easy listening played at a cocktail bar. On to How Can I, fans may feel more at ease, as this is more similar to some of her past work (it reminds me a little of Flicker and Fail). This track has been floating around her live sets for a while now, and although some changes have been made including an increased tempo, it’s still subtly heartbreaking as she asks simply “How will I live without you?”
The closing three songs Howl, Short Movie and Worship Me wrap up the album nicely with three different atmospheres. Howl shows the darker, minor chord-driven side of Laura Marling that comes out at least once in most of her albums (like on Alpha Shallows and The Beast). It’s soft but powerful. Short Movie, the first single and title track, is like a high-speed chase, with no apparent middle and no foreseeable end. It barrels along through different styles and tempos, speeding up only to be almost stopped on “They know, but they don’t know why.” This sentiment, along with building crescendos, gives this song a triumphant tone. She almost shouts towards the end: “It’s a short fucking movie man!” sounding like a celebration – a celebration of us knowing, but not knowing why. All of this triumphant energy dissipates, however, for the last track Worship Me, which effectively ends the chase. With its classic Marling-esque runs up and down the scales, sometimes slipping into speaking, I feel this is the perfect ending to the album. It reminds the old fans that this is still Laura Marling, just older and possibly wiser. We’re sung out with the heart-wrenching refrain “Forgive me.”
This album, true to Laura Marling’s legacy, is completely different from her last, while still being very her. She seems, with each new installment in her portfolio, to question the boundaries of the reputation she’s made for herself among fans, pushing against what is expected and creating something great because of it. In my opinion, this album is the perfect mix of soft and hard. The singles she released before this were mostly fast moving electric affairs, which made me nervous for the complete album. While she does venture in to this new territory, however, there is enough classic Laura Marling beautiful guitar work and clever lyrics to embrace the new with open arms. If anyone is new to Laura Marling, I would suggest listening to her first album Alas I Cannot Swim after Short Movie so that you, too, can see how far she’s come. Already on album number five at the age of 25, I can’t wait to see what she does next.