Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Laura Marling is fast etching out an important career. She’s went well beyond the ‘folk singer with a guitar’ years ago, toying with new ways of expressing new emotions as she writes her way through her 20s.
Some parts of what she sings about on Semper Femina are obvious. ‘The Valley’ is a brilliant examination of an outworn friendship, while this passage in ‘Wild Fire’ is a perfect summation of everyday narcissism.
She keeps a pen behind her ear
In case she’s got something she really really needs to say
She puts it in a notepad
She's gonna write a book someday
Of course the only part that I want to read
Is about her time spent with me
Wouldn’t you die to know how you're seen
Are you getting away with who you’re trying to be?
At other times she’s far more ambiguous. Marling thumbs her nose at Roman poet Virgil in ‘Nouel’. His passage “varium et mutabile semper femina” means “woman is a fickle and ever-changing thing”, the singer chooses to see that as a compliment as she pays tribute to her dear friend and muse.
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Marling has never made a rough sounding record, but there’s a crispness and vitality to Semper Femina that makes it particularly striking.
Her voice remains unparalleled. It is one of the great singing voices not just of this era but of any. Her sweet, soaring falsetto in ‘Soothing’ – a bona fide career highlight – and the Dylan-esque mumble of the aforementioned ‘Wild Fire’ show her versatility, and both are as affecting as each other.
Blake Mills (Alabama Shakes, Dawes, Jim James) continues his reign as the best young producer around. He makes it sound like Marling’s in the room with us, even when swirling strings abound, and supports her songs and stories rather than stepping on them when adds his own lead guitar.
There’s also a cohesion to Semper Femina that was missing on 2015’s Short Movie. While she continues to explore new ways of expressing her messages, the musical through line seems a little more pronounced. These songs belong together. They’re coming from the same place. Is it maturity? Is it a fluke? Whatever it is, it’s pleasing to hear.
There’s now no point in trying to rank Laura Marling records, just like you can’t rank those of her heroes. It’s already clear that different parts of her career are going to affect people in unique ways, which makes us excited for what might come next.
Just be sure that her creative journey continues to be one you’d be wise to follow very closely.