Monday, December 20, 2010

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2010: Number 12

Something has changed within Laura Marling. Not just her age group or, for the cover shoot, her hair colour. For starters, there's her voice. It's slipped the naive girlishness of Alas I Cannot Swim and developed a huskier, fuller bodied rustic tone. It ties in with a greater maturity, as while Marling always had an intelligence beyond her years I Speak Because I Can is her slipping the foolish love and guileless self-examination of her first album and delving into English folk's gravitas and storytelling tradition via a sprinkle of Americana's rootsiness and desire to pass down a generation's cautionary tales. It feels more considered and ballad like, the better to expose the blood rushing through the middle of the allegorical sentiments.

On release much of the intention was buried by nonsense searching for meaning in her personal affairs where there seems to be none, but down the line the emotional content is metaphysical rather than autobiographical. She's capable of being direct -you couldn't write something like the homesick longing of Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) without some personal investment - but in the context of a soul prone to deep heartbreak and thinking of abandonment and death. "You never did learn to let the little things go" Marling chides a lover on Blackberry Stone; "Why fear death? Be scared of living" she dispiritedly admits as "no hope for... your life serving daughter" on Hope In The Air. Producer Ethan Johns has instilled a surefooted aesthetic that gives the songs room to breathe with slowly revealed depths that emphasise the oft present melancholy beyond mere growing pains, taking in the mandolins-at-dawn duel (unsurprisingly Mumford & Sons were involved in recording) underpinning the insistent anguish of Devil's Spoke and the gentlest of forbidden love paens What He Wrote, one that helps Rambling Man ("it’s funny that the first chords that you come to are the minor notes") gradually build from candelit longing to a soaring triumphant close. As Marling howls like a trainee banshee on the Odysseus nod title track it's all the more evident that she has command of her craft and, more importantly, a grasp of humanity's emotional pull, taking the tale telling cliche of the particular craft that was once considered merely nu and making it both contemporary and pulling it back towards its roots.


Devil's Spoke

The full list

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