Laura Marling succeeds in creating a passionate, pleasing, and well developed folk rock album with a few beautiful standouts amidst the simplicity that can make anyone’s experience worthwhile.
Looking at this album in a big picture perspective, the melodies did very well to portray emotion and pull the listener through the experience. The rises and falls within important chorus points had a great sense of weight to them, and everything was kept sensible and authentic. Looking in closely from song to song, the melodies didn’t actually play as big of a role as they could have, and nothing was really too memorable after the fact. Only one song, “Always This Way”, had a melody that I thought was the most important aspect to its composition. Mostly, the melodic lines were just enjoying the ride, which in effect did enhance the relatable quality to the music. It did lack energy and urgency for the most part, though. That was the one obvious negative that I took from this album overall, and it’s not even that big of a deal. The song “The Valley” is good example of a melody that is sweet, simple, and fulfilling within the music despite a lack of energy. Energy doesn’t mean big and fast, but it does have to do with how well it moves along and transfers the listener to different ideas. There wasn’t much of that here, but they were still incredibly worthwhile in their emotiveness. Just a bit more attention to melodic intrigue from Marling is needed for her to reach greatness.
I’ve been listening to Marling’s music for a while now, and I have great respect for what she has done as a musician so far, but this album contains the first song of hers that I was actually entranced by through her harmony. In fact, this album had three of them, right in a row: “Wild Once”, Next Time” and “Nouel”. Normally, the song “The Valley” would’ve been Marling’s peak of creativity on an album, with its poly-metric feel and cool use of I, IV, and V. At the end of the album, though, she blew me away with the exceptional harmonic rhythm, drive, and wonderful journeys through harmonies that were once thought to be commonplace. This is what really highlighted the album for me. There were other songs, such as “Wild Fire”, that had no strong rhythm or compelling deviations for the harmony to benefit from. Those three songs that I mentioned earlier, though, were well worth the entire listen and truly made this album special.
Marling is one of the best around today at the simple guitarist/singer sound that can be the cornerstone of the music, and despite the lack of strong additions to the texture, there’s enough interest generated from Marling’s contributions alone to sustain for the album. At least, enough interest for the album to maintain a status of solidity. Her acoustic guitar playing was beautiful, and while I thought the quicker and more energetic guitar picking was more successful for the music as a whole, her slow and reflective playing also had its merit. The electric guitar only came across well when it kept control of the calming atmosphere (as in “Don’t Pass Me By”) rather than completely changing the dynamic (as in “Nothing, Not Nearly”). Backup vocals were altogether wonderful, and were used just the right amount so as to not make the form of the songs seem too expected. The usage of strings, though, was a little questioning at times and never really sounded as fulfilling as they could have been. Overall, Marling’s execution of small textures was very enjoyable, but I also would have loved a more powerful presence of a large added instrument such as a piano or a bass or a cello. There was certainly space to grow within the music, and I thought the timbre could have reached a higher level with additions like that. Still, it was gorgeous, and there was enough variety in presentation to keep each song unique.
One of Britain’s most talented songwriters alive has once again delivered an enjoyable collection of songs, with her sixth studio album perhaps being her most important and timely to date. Amidst a simplistic texture, lots of deep thought and meaning can be found within these songs. I really enjoyed the abstract nature of her storytelling here, and I’m sure others will too. There is a strong market for music as pure and thoughtful as this, and it should only serve to grow Marling’s fan base. There’s a ton of young female guitarists that need this role model. While it’s nothing but a pleasant listen for some, it could prove to be revolutionary for others.
Final Score: 142/180