It feels as though Laura Marling has always been far too young to sound this old. Upon rising to
prominence a half-decade-and-change ago with her excellent debut album, Alas I Cannot Swim, it startled many listeners to find that the richly-woven harmonies and sombre sea-dwelling tales it contained were being delivered by a scrawny teenager and not a beleaguered forty-something widow.
What nineteen-year-old, after all, could deliver a lyric as succinct and poignant as, “It’s not like I believe in everlasting love”? Perhaps therein lay the appeal of Marling – as a part of the so-called nu-folk movement, she assisted in bringing elements of traditional folk, bluegrass and Americana to an audience that would have thought Woody Guthrie was a brand of imported beer.
Now 25 years old and four records in, Marling has seen the aforementioned movement come and go; and with it, a countless string of imitators and coffee-shop variety wanna-bes. Her own musical direction has shifted with the tide – and, after a few years in the proverbial wilderness, she has re-emerged with what may be her finest record to date. Short Movie is meticulously arranged and carefully sculpted, every note serving its purpose and every layer building to something far greater than the sum of its parts.
A new slew of influences light the path here – PJ Harvey’s guitar tone and sardonic, half-spoken vocal delivery from her early material build the foundation of songs such as the one-two combination of Strange and Don’t Let Me Bring You Down. Elsewhere, the hazy-eyed folk of Nick Drake and a young Leonard Cohen make their presence felt through opening number Warrior and whimsical Easy, respectively.
It’s worth stressing that, while identifiable and even justifiable, Marling’s songwriting is not strictly defined solely by the inspiration taken. What Marling does here, rather, is guide the lessons learned from these performers through her own perspective and personal approach to songwriting.
At this point, Marling has a much clearer idea of what it is that she wants out of each song, rarely lingering on a particular idea or passage for too long. One would suppose that it comes with the territory, but there feels as though there is added weight to Marling’s development.
Simultaneously passionate and placid, resonant and remorseful, fantastical and firmly-grounded – Short Movie is a sharp, poignant and timely reinvention of a songwriter that has brimmed with potential since her debut LP. Here, her cup runneth over.
Short Movie is out now.