Music Reviews
Short Movie

Laura Marling Short Movie

(Virgin) Rating - 8/10

Before we go ahead and lament the paucity of female voices in a testosterone-saturated musical landscape, let us hail the growing coterie of female singer-songwriters who have been baring their souls and talents on top-notch records for quite a long time. PJ Harvey, Sharon Van Etten, Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus, Natalie Prass (a more recent contender)—they’ve been on critics’ radar, but for a variety of misty reasons, the kinds of records these women produce don’t seem to be marketable enough for an audience that can’t be automatically labeled as ‘’quirky’’ or ‘’alternative’’. The good thing, however, is that the kinds of records these women produce are invariably good. Let’s go ahead and add Laura Marling to that list of artists, because (besides being a woman who croons introspective lyrics and sells her own angle on sex, relationships, and messy emotions) her latest album, Short Movie, is nothing short of masterful.

Unlike the quiet meditations of 2013’s Once I Was an Eagle, Short Movie is characterized by songs like Warrior, an Old West-inflected paean to confrontation. Whether this confrontation is with the self or with a significant other is probably irrelevant to Marling’s creative intentions, but the question of who or what the horse is in the lyric ‘’I can’t be your horse anymore’’ has its own cultural counterpart, namely in America’s Horse With No Name (a song which, not so shockingly, is name-checked towards the end of the track). Covert lyrical interpretations aside, in Warrior Marling doles out deliciously unapologetic one-liners (‘’Go face the lord on your own’’) over ardent string guitar chords, building an undercurrent of softly simmering tension that persists throughout the stylistic and tonal changes of the album.

Most of Short Movie lingers over energetic yet contemplative sounds, which Marling then pairs with her voice, an instrument as soothing as it is commanding, and every lyric is delivered with a kind of conversational cadence that hints at a slight curl in the corners of Marling’s lips. ‘’Please don’t let me bring you down/ Do I look like I’m fucking around?’’ she articulates on Don’t Let Me Bring You Down, emphatically spitting out the expletive and then ending the phrase as soon as she says it. There is a haunting sense of intimacy in the casual, conversational tone of Marling’s vocals, and soon enough even the simplest lyrical constructions are imbued with a kind of end-of-the-day depth of feeling, a mix of consolation and disappointment (cue the soft, heartfelt riff of Walk Alone).

Marling has a talent for instilling in her work an awareness of what listeners are thinking, and this self-awareness goes hand-in-hand with one of the album’s most compelling features: the urge to push the boundaries of artistic mediums. The spoken word poem-like quality of Strange; the visual appeal of the lyrics in False Hope (‘’We stay in the apartment on the upper west side/ And my worst problem is I don't sleep at night/ Woman downstairs just lost her mind’’); even the album’s title hint at music’s unexplored affinity with other art forms and how fluid and cinematic music can be. Laura Marling has the nerve and the musical ability to invest in that fluidity, and she delivers every time.