Firstly, an admission of guilt. Prior to first hearing ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’, the consideration was that folk was the final refuge of Mike Harding and a myriad bearded men discussing the merits of real ale. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Blending a vast array of worryingly insightful lyrics with sparse but never less than addictive hooks, it remains a remarkably self-assured piece of work. And one that provoked some eating of hat.
Having rapidly followed it with ‘I Speak Because I Can’, we now find ourselves looking upon Laura Marling’s third album in as many years; albeit one that is pursuing a Countrified direction that is slightly incongruous, yet still extremely moving.
Within seconds, ‘The Muse’ proves a cheerier prospect that anything that made up the second LP – a fantastically bluegrass banjo centered around a nucleus of snappy vocal melody. It gives the impression of an album far more at home with itself; and one that should not be tarred with the youthful exuberance that Marling’s debut was. The hooks are far more subtle this time round; hitting with an almost intravenous effect, coursing through for far longer than you would ever have given credit for.
Highlight ‘The Beast’ is a departure from form; a surprise almost to the point of bombast. Menacing to a similar degree to ‘Night Terror’, aggressive acoustic creates an almost tangible wall of noise, and one that should prove entertaining should it get an airing during the pending Cathedral tour of the UK.
Whilst the folk influences are still static, the aforementioned elements of bluegrass appear alongside some wonderfully implemented mandolin, and later genuinely haunting backing vocals – especially during metamorphosing lead single ‘Sophia’. The guitar (intentionally according to recent interviews) is frequently very low in the mix, allowing Marling’s cashmere vocal range to act as an instrument in its own right. Forthright without being self-indulgent, it gives the lyrics full room to breathe whilst retaining a subtlety that lends gratification to further listens.
The vast influx of female solo artists has become nothing short of saturation, and ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ does something to counteract the balance. Or at least it would if anyone ever hears it. An overly underappreciated British artist and one that should receive nothing but the highest plaudits. A strong contender for album of the year, and in serious danger of surpassing her debut. And if it stops someone buying an Adele album, all the better.
Matt Crane says….
To find out more, visit the official Laura Marling site HERE.