Electric and Profound
The term “old soul” has been thrown around in the various musings on what makes English folk singer-songwriter, Laura Marling, great. Another perhaps overly-used strategy for critics to think about her music is to draw comparisons to one of the great folksingers of the modern era, Joni Mitchell. The Joni Mitchell comparison, while possibly too obvious and a bit one dimensional is no less on point. Just listen to her voice and tone on “I Feel Your Love” from her fifth and latest record, Short Movie for the best example of why this comparison has emerged. The similarities are uncanny. Metaphors and points of comparison aside, the effect that Short Movie will have on the listener is hard to describe. What is clear is that Marling’s latest stands above the outputs of others in her generation in a way that defies explanation.
At 25 years old, Laura Marling has already achieved an incredible amount. Prior to this latest record, Marling created four albums worth of music, toured extensively, and was recognized on Britain’s award circuit. To piece it all together, she decided to move from her home on the outskirts of London to the wilds of Los Angeles. The real reasons for the move only she can fully know, but presumably it was to gain a new perspective, learn something about herself or expand her mind. The result of that 2-year break from Great Britain was Short Movie.
As Marling’s career progresses, Short Movie will likely be considered her American album, the one where she went electric in the spirit of that other legend of 60s folk, who does not need naming. Many of the songs are about relationships, loneliness, failed or missed connections, and the need to be un-tethered and free. All are themes covered with much less soul and grace by other singer-songwriters her age. But perhaps because of her analog, live-take recording style, Marling lends them new depth and beauty.
The song “Warrior” opens the record with a dark acoustic lick and psychedelic white noise and reverb filling in the gaps. The result is the sound of a cerebral whoosh evoking the cacophony of Los Angeles as Marling sings from the point of view of a horse abandoning its owner: “I can’t be your horse anymore, you’re not the warrior I would die for.” Songs like “I Feel Your Love” and “How Can I” in contrast are stripped down acoustic affairs that evoke the Laurel Canyon sound of the early 70s to the point that one half expects Neil Young to chime in on harmony.
Each song is worth at minimum two or three listens both for her voice and the imagery they evoke. Lines like “Do you know how strange I love you?” and “Sun kicks the moon off the mountain” accent each song, and the title track simply states “It’s a short fucking movie man.” It’s up to the listener to decide what the songs mean. Ultimately, the record is about finding oneself, inspired by Marling’s own New Age explorations, experiments in yurt living in Joshua Tree, and training as a yoga instructor. This may all seem like the ramblings of a youthful spirit, but in fact, perhaps old soul is truly the only way to explain how Marling pulls off such a beautiful collection of songs so profoundly.