Album Review: Laura Marling, ‘Short Movie’
Ever since her 2008 debut, Alas, I Cannot Swim, Laura Marling has been praised for her striking vocals, verbose and evocative songwriting and impressive guitar work. It’s an equation that has led critics and fans alike to take pause and remark on just how well beyond her years Marling is at only 25.
With that precedent established during the early stages of Marling’s young career seven years and four albums ago, it’s uncanny how she’s managed to nevertheless build upon the already incredibly sturdy foundation of her exceptional brand of indie-folk. However, it makes Marling’s evolution a nuanced one. As a result, it may be difficult to parse out, but the British singer-songwriter’s 2013 full-length, Once I Was an Eagle, was a turning point in Marling’s catalog. It found her more fiercely independent than before, announcing herself as the hunter; the eagle.
So, where was she to go from there? Maybe that will always be the wall Marling faces after concluding another highly-acclaimed album -- just as it is for many artists. Even Marling admitted that she scrapped a first draft to an Eagle follow-up, deciding it was merely continuation of the 2013 LP rather than a progression.
With Short Movie, Marling manages to resolve those concerns and responds with a new collection of 13 powerfully confident songs. Many will chalk up Short Movie’s departure to the singer’s adoption of an electric guitar. It’s certainly a contributing factor exhibited on the LP’s lead track, “Warrior,” which builds a kind of atmospheric white noise that allows Marling’s vocals to sink into the sometimes dissonant background, while “False Hope”’s plugged-in instrumentation seems to give Marling’s delivery a subtle grit when she almost challengingly sneers, “Is it still okay that I don’t know how to be alone?”
But an electric guitar is only a small part of Short Movie’s story. Even Marling noted prior to the album’s arrival that though the guitar transformed her “perspective on music,” she plays it very much the way she does her trusty acoustic. It adds dynamism and power, but it’s not the only thing affording Marling’s growth on her fifth full-length.
She’s once again honed in on and refined her singular voice as an artist. She still mines the inspiration that has fueled past works -- namely her wariness of relationships, commitment and romance. For that, “Strange” is an exceptional example of Marling’s head-on candidness as she addresses a married lover: “But should you fall in love with me / Your love becomes my responsibility / And I can never do you wrong / Do you know how hard that is?”
But Marling also draws from her time spent living in L.A. following the release of Once I Was an Eagle.
“I think a lot of this record is about feeling -- not consciously, but in retrospect -- desperately lost in translation [living in Los Angeles],” she said. “I had an old mentor, an American chap, who kept saying to me, ‘It’s a short movie, man,’ which I thought was quite funny, so there are lots of Americanisms like that in it.”
And with that comes the new album’s titular track on which Marling sings, “Who do you think you are? / Just a girl that can play guitar.” That’s it -- it’s a simple but self-assured declaration and thesis statement. But that’s also the point: “It’s a short f---ing movie, man.” You only get so much time to speak your piece, and to Marling's credit, she's has spent hers building a catalog that delivers increasingly potent moments of self-reflection and awareness.