Laura Marling - Short Movie
Laura Marling is really pushing her boundaries. That sweet, somewhat diffident stoic girl with the beautiful lilting voice, well, she's gone. Marling returns with her most nakedly confessional album to date - quite brave for someone as obsessively private as she is. But here she stands, defying us, daring us, not to flinch, and not giving a care if we do. Who does she think she is? If this album anything to go by she's perhaps not too sure herself.
Marling has stripped away her folk roots. Self-produced, with her small yet stalwart band following behind, the music that pours forth from Short Movie is more akin to PJ Harvey than Joni Mitchell. She has gone 'electric', more so than with any of her previous releases. But no cries of 'JUDAS!' just yet. The music, and Marling's vocals, are subdued, pulled back. If she is going to confess all, then she isn't going to make it easy on herself. No loud cacophony of feedback and drums to hide behind. The journey starts with 'Warrior' - cold and haunting with Marling assuming the form of a horse carrying her rider through the desert. Tiring of the burden, she throws him off - "I can't be your horse anymore / You're not the warrior I was looking for." It is an image we will see again repeated: Marling the beast wandering alone, at once yearning for and fleeing from companionship. 'False Hope' comes next, the most overtly rock track, and one Marling fans secretly hoped she'd do one day. In it she learns you can be lost and alone even in a city of millions. Set in New York City during Hurricane Sandy, Marling must deal with the storm raging outside as well as the turmoil inside her. The music is frantic, frightened, as is Marling's delivery: "Is it still okay that I don't know how to be alone?" She can't seem to stand her own company, nor the company of others.
'I Feel Your Love' returns us to familiar territory with Marling strumming furiously on her acoustic guitar, pleading to her lover to keep her safe, perhaps from herself: "Keep your love around me so I can't be alone / An electric fence / A silent defense to you all." The quiet and pensive 'Walk Alone' follows, an independent defiant spirit declaring that solitude may not be all that it's cracked up to be. Yet can we believe her? With 'Strange', the frightened vulnerable Marliing of the previous songs disappears and in her place is a scathing, sneering person we're not sure we like quite as well. Over galloping acoustic guitars she consoles a married man who is obviously far more smitten with her than she with him. And while the advice is all for the good, her mocking tone feels as if she is laughing at him: "I can offer you so little help / But just accept the hands you've been dealt." As with 'Don't Let Me Bring you Down', peppered with profanity and over-confident vocals you get the sense of someone attempting to appear more assured and in control than they actually feel. The next three songs, 'Easy', 'Gurdjieff's Daughter' and the dull languishing 'Divine' flit uncertainly between someone longing for solitude and then begging not to be left alone. Never before has Marling, always so self-assured and wise beyond her years, seemed so cut adrift: "Be wary of being given a name....once they name you / They have been known to lock you away."
"I'm taking more risks now...til I get what is mine" she sings in 'How Can I'. Once again she seems to be running from anyone who may tie her down. The beautiful 'Howl' returns to the theme of 'Warrior', Marling running for her life, for her freedom, even though it breaks her heart: "Holding my chest like I’m a wild horse / About to run away scared." The album ends with nothing being fully resolved. "They know, but they'll never know why" she cries in the title track. It would seem there are still some things she will keep to herself.
Short Movie is both beautiful and unnerving. Marling's unflinching portrait is of a frail, frightened creature still trying to make sense of it all. This stark brooding collection of songs will either draw fans closer to her or drive them away. You get the feeling she doesn't really care either way.