12. Laura Marling–I Speak Because I Can

Best of 2010How do you follow a debut record of such quality, such depth and such beguiling songwriting that nobody was able to believe you were still in your teens when you made it? With relative ease, it would seem. At the risk of getting repetitive, it’s hard to believe she made this record whilst still in her teens too.

laura marling i speak

I Speak Because I Can’ was largely recorded live to tape, Laura Marling and her assembled band rattling through these tunes in one room under the guidance of the esteemed Ethan Johns. It should be noted that there’s a little less jangle than on the debut and this is a rather more intense affair. Opener ‘Devil’s Spoke’ is an all out folk assault, before the quieter textures of ‘Made By Maid’ and ‘Blackberry Stone’ move into view, the latter a rather more fulsome rendering than the b-side incarnation which previously accompanied ‘Cross Your Fingers’. Between these two sits the first of the album’s true gems, ‘Rambling Man’. A fine example of how to build a song slowly but surely, with no need for epic strings or ludicrous guitar breaks, it is also home to one of Marling’s best vocal performances to date. She languidly curls her larynx around the opening verse, gathering in intensity as the band come shambling in and yet still holding back until the final renderings of the chorus. This transcendent vocal flourish follows a quite startling breakdown in proceedings in which, with almost eerie conviction, Marling tells us that, “it’s funny how the first chords that you come to are the minor notes that come to serenade you. It’s hard to accept yourself as someone you don’t desire, as someone you don’t want to be.” The song seems to suggest that the character in the song, be it autobiographical or otherwise, is happy to not fit in, provided they be accepted for who they truly are. The almost euphoric chorus, reminiscent of ‘Blue’-era Joni, belies the rather more complex undercurrent.

‘Alpha Shallows’ appears in a more concise and haunting fashion than its previous outing on the ‘Night Terror’ single quite managed, while last year’s Christmas single ‘Goodbye England’ is not hindered by its festive associations and the refrain about never loving England more "than when covered in snow" seems more than a little prescient at this end of 2010. ‘Hope In The Air’ continues the moody and intense celtic folk tones first established by album opener, ‘Devil’s Spoke’. ‘What He Wrote’, on the other hand, tells the haunting tale of separated lovers over a sparse acoustic backdrop. ‘The waves came and stole him and took him to her’, sings Marling, and by God she sounds every bit the wronged wife. It is this subtle but quite magnificent vocal dexterity that sets ‘I Speak Because I Can’ apart from ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’, in the same way that that debut was a subtle, but notable, shift on from the sound of her early demos and EP. Progression is obvious, but in a fashion that I can only imagine will win favour with devotees of that stunning initial outing.

‘Darkness Descends’, replete with beautiful, double-tracked vocal, has a levity of touch that is welcome after the intensity of ‘What He Wrote’. The galloping drums are back on what is perhaps the most obvious indication of the album having been recorded with the whole troupe playing together in the same place. There’s a gentle, rough-around-the-edges feel to the arrival of some of the backing vocals and the halting of bits of percussion that is utterly, utterly charming. You’re probably smiling by this point. Album closer, ‘I Speak Because I Can’ quickly puts paid to that, opening with the line, “my husband left me last night, left me a poor and lonely wife.” The title track builds to a suitably wrought conclusion before simply stopping and bring the album to an atmospheric, anticipatory and downright amazing conclusion.

‘I Speak Because I Can’ is a less immediate record than ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ and it is a step on from that record’s sound also, but it is a superb second offering and of a consistently high standard. While it doesn’t scream instant classic at you, after a dozen or so listens you’ll feel like there was never a time you hadn’t heard it. And that will make you feel good.

Laura Marling – Legendary Status Assured

This was the first time I’ve felt old at a gig. Plenty where I’ve felt young but never previously old. Laura Marling has a lot of young fans. Who like to ‘woooo’ at their favourite songs. Mainly the girls, to be absolutely fair, although there were many ludicrously complex hairstyles from the lads, so as not to let the side down. Pleasant bunch, nonetheless. Just very young. Did I mention that?

Furnishing the assembled throng in Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre with not one but two high quality support acts was rather generous and the first of these, Boy And Bear, might be best described as a cross between Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons with additional ‘wooos’. Which is not to say they’re made up of young, female Laura Marling fans. It’s more to convey their fondness for rather lovely harmonies. Decent stage banter and a splendidly warm sound too, topped off by a bloody wonderful rendition of Bon Iver‘s ‘Flume‘. They did point out that you can get some free music from their Myspace, so it seems only polite to do so

Next up was Alessi’s Ark, and Alessi’s initial, fluttery, kooky utterances make me worry that I might be about to witness a low budget Bjork impression, but she soon gets into her flow. She passes on wisdom learnt from one of Marling’s band too: "Did you know that the supermarket Iceland is run by a company from Iceland?" Such irreverent banter is entirely at odds with her bewitching songs and I look forward to getting to know her better when she releases an album on Bella Union in the second half of the year. Her thoroughly splendid EP, ‘Soul Proprietor‘ is already available and you can sample it on Spotify.

laura

The night, perhaps unsurprisingly, still very much belonged to Laura Marling, however, and her set demonstrated exactly how far she has come since the relatively tentative steps of ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’. The peroxide hair colour now transformed to autumnal browns (something she appeared to have at least partly reversed by the time she appeared on Later) and stage banter something which has been thankfully added to the repertoire, this performance had little in common with the last time I saw her, towards the end of 2008, in a small venue in Nottingham. Equally spellbinding, I’ll concede, but on this evidence, Marling will be a musical force for decades to come because there is something genuinely distinctive about her style, her performance and her music.

The set was heavily weighted in favour of the new album which suited me just fine, only serving to further clarify just how strong the new material is. She’s a captivating presence from the off and when her band melt into the shadows leaving the entire middle section of the show as a solo performance, it’s hard not to sit there slack-jawed in conspicuous awe. Unassuming, pathologically straight-forward and simply magnificent, Marling’s recent surge in popularity is both heartening and just. With a third album on the way before the end of the year, there will surely be another tour. I will consider you something of a fool if you don’t possess yourself of a ticket.

March Reviews

See what I did there? No? Me neither. After rejecting several tortured puns on ‘March’ and then several more about the fact there are six of these, I thought I’d go literal. Never mind, eh? As per last month, here are my six published reviews of records released this month. Obviously, it would be nice if you went out and spent actual money on the ever-so-shiny Clash Magazine, but should that be unlikely to happen, I can assuage my vanity by publishing them all here. And so it begins…

march jp 1

LAURA MARLING – ‘I Speak Because I Can’ (VIRGIN)

Laura Marling’s debut set the bar high and this eagerly anticipated follow up confidently dispels any concerns about quality control. Her second album is an enchanting collection of beautifully raw songs, the faint trace of tape-hiss in the quieter moments combined with the rootsy feel of songs like ‘Alpha Shallows’ and ‘Devil’s Spoke’, making for a more laid-back affair than her debut. Marling’s songwriting has taken great strides forward; recent single ‘Goodbye England’ is a lullaby about the English countryside while ‘What He Wrote’ tells the haunting tale of separated lovers, belying the fact that its author only recently turned twenty. A remarkable record; you’ll want to play little else. 9/10

Last week’s New Music Monday has rather more about this album, should you need further info. It really is as good as this suggests. Having continued to play it solidly for a further month or so, I only love it more.

THE KISSAWAY TRAIL – ‘Sleep Mountain’ (BELLA UNION)

Some records are so bursting with ambition and invention that it’s impossible to not be charmed by them. Boasting a wealth of grandiose, uplifting and downright epic tunes, all accompanied by an ethereal yelp pitched somewhere between Wayne Coyne and Jonathan Donahue, ‘Sleep Mountain’ is one such record. At the risk of drowning in comparisons, it’s only fair to flag up the Arcade Fire debt. For those who felt let down by ‘Neon Bible’, ‘Sleep Mountain’ will give you a big hug and reassure you that it’s all going to be ok. ‘Don’t Wake Up’, the most transparent offender, is a fine piece of work. 7/10

A good, but not great, record. Plenty to enjoy but not exactly one that I reach for regularly. I suspect it may click with me at a later date and it has continued to slowly unfurl its charms.

BABYBIRD – ‘Ex-Maniac’ (UNISON MUSIC)

Fourteen years on, it’s time to forgive Stephen Jones for ‘that’ bloody song. If one track can ever stain your reputation for more than a decade, ensuring you are written off as a novelty act, then that track is ‘You’re Gorgeous’. It was never a fair representation of what Babybird’s music can be and, thankfully, still is. He’s still prone to the odd clunker; ‘Drug Time’ lumbers along with clichéd drug metaphors aplenty. But, despite these minor niggles, Jones is still capable of some genuinely engaging storytelling and ‘Bastard’ and ‘Black Flowers’ cover both ends of the Babybird spectrum: chaotic fast one and dramatic slow one. Both are excellent. 6/10

Ok, so those of us who are fond of a bit of Babybird will likely end up enjoying it slightly more than a 6/10 suggests, but in the sense of people coming to this fresh it’s, well, ok. It does similar things to lots of his records and has some moments of wonder and then some lazy lyrics and lumpen tunes.

March jp 2

KRIS DREVER – ‘Mark The Hard Earth’ (NAVIGATOR)

Sometimes you encounter a voice that has that indefinable something: it conveys emotion, commands attention and sounds unapologetically lived in. Kris Drever is not only the owner of one of these voices, but he’s also one of folk music’s great hopes. He is rightly lauded for his impassioned moulding of traditional sounds into contemporary songs that have the capacity to melt the heart. With a more complex sonic palette than his debut, ‘Mark The Hard Earth’ contains a number of absolute gems. The highlight, ‘The Crown Of London’, features a truly beautiful cascading guitar part that you’ll not be able to forget in a hurry. 7/10

Think this one might have climbed up to an 8 in the intervening time period. Recent FUTUREMUSIC coverage made my appreciation of Drever clear for all to see. He really is worth investigating and genuinely something ‘different’ to listen to.

NORTHERN PORTRAIT – ‘Criminal Art Lovers’ (MATINEE RECORDINGS)

I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to suggest that this lot own a few Smiths albums. In fact, some of the vocal affectations and extravagantly jangly guitars on this record would suggest that the band name is a gentle and affectionate nod to their Mancunian forefathers to acknowledge their not inconsiderable influence. This is, let’s be clear, a very good thing. ‘New Favourite Moment’ is glorious indie pop with a crowd pleasing chorus while ‘When Goodness Falls’ features the lyric, “I’m so glad to disappoint you”, making you wonder if there’s a punctured bicycle somewhere nearby, on a hillside, desolate. 8/10

As I pointed out when this lot came up in FUTUREMUSIC, I took a few liberties with this piece, overdoing the Smiths references so as to encourage as many people as possible to give them a listen. In a similar way to how Neil Hannon claims to have only really discovered Scott Walker after people kept telling him how much he sounded like him, Northern Portrait are fairly recent converts to The Smiths, for similar reasons. Oh well, point made, I think.

LOU RHODES  – ‘One Good Thing’ (MOTION AUDIO)

Staring out at rain-soaked countryside through train-carriage windows heavy with condensation, the sparse beauty of Lou Rhodes’ voice is absolutely charming but, once everyday life cuts in, it becomes a little bit forgettable. This collection of minimalist acoustic numbers is a soothing and gentle listen but it never quite establishes itself as an album deserving of regular listens. Nice is such a bland word that it veers close to being an insult but there’s no better way of describing this album. ‘It All’ and ‘Baby’ are particularly charming, but unfortunately it suffers from the perennial problem of all blending together and, while it certainly won’t disappoint, it won’t excite either. 6/10

Oh. I’d actually forgotten that I’d reviewed this one. That probably says it all, really.

2010 on the record

New Music Monday – Laura Marling ‘I Speak Because I Can’

How do you follow a debut record of such quality, such depth and such beguiling songwriting that nobody was able to believe you were still in your teens when you made it? With relative ease, it would seem. At the risk of getting repetitive, it’s hard to believe she made this record whilst still in her teens too.

Laura_Marling

I Speak Because I Can’ was largely recorded live to tape, Laura Marling and her assembled band rattling through these tunes in one room under the guidance of the esteemed Ethan Johns. It should be noted that there’s a little less jangle than on the debut and this is a rather more intense affair. Opener ‘Devil’s Spoke’ is an all out folk assault, before the quieter textures of ‘Made By Maid’ and ‘Blackberry Stone’ move into view, the latter a rather more fulsome rendering than the b-side incarnation which previously accompanied ‘Cross Your Fingers’. Between these two sits the first of the album’s true gems, ‘Rambling Man’. A fine example of how to build a song slowly but surely, with no need for epic strings or ludicrous guitar breaks, it is also home to one of Marling’s best vocal performances to date. She languidly curls her larynx around the opening verse, gathering in intensity as the band come shambling in and yet still holding back until the final renderings of the chorus. This transcendent vocal flourish follows a quite startling breakdown in proceedings in which, with almost eerie conviction, Marling tells us that, “it’s funny how the first chords that you come to are the minor notes that come to serenade you. It’s hard to accept yourself as someone you don’t desire, as someone you don’t want to be.” The song seems to suggest that the character in the song, be it autobiographical or otherwise, is happy to not fit in, provided they be accepted for who they truly are. The almost euphoric chorus, reminiscent of ‘Blue’-era Joni, belies the rather more complex undercurrent.

laura marling i speak

Alpha Shallows’ appears in a more concise and haunting fashion than its previous outing on the ‘Night Terror’ single quite managed, while Christmas single ‘Goodbye England’ seems strangely at home amongst the other nine songs and its festive associations do not hinder its role within the wider confines of an album. ‘Hope In The Air’ continues the moody and intense celtic folk tones first established by album opener, ‘Devil’s Spoke’. ‘What He Wrote’, on the other hand, tells the haunting tale of separated lovers over a sparse acoustic backdrop. ‘The waves came and stole him and took him to her’, sings Marling, and by God she sounds every bit the wronged wife. It is this subtle but quite magnificent vocal dexterity that sets ‘I Speak Because I Can’ apart from ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’, in the same way that that debut was a subtle, but notable, shift on from the sound of her early demos and EP. Progression is obvious, but in a fashion that I can only imagine will win favour with devotees of that stunning initial outing.

Darkness Descends’, replete with beautiful, double-tracked vocal, has a levity of touch that is welcome after the intensity of ‘What He Wrote’. The galloping drums are back on what is perhaps the most obvious indication of the album having been recorded with the whole troupe playing together in the same place. There’s a gentle, rough-around-the-edges feel to the arrival of some of the backing vocals and the halting of bits of percussion that is utterly, utterly charming. You’re probably smiling by this point. Album closer, ‘I Speak Because I Can’ quickly puts paid to that, opening with the line, “my husband left me last night, left me a poor and lonely wife.” The title track builds to a suitably wrought conclusion before simply stopping and bring the album to an atmospheric, anticipatory and downright amazing conclusion. The fact that there is to be a second album from Laura Marling this year is fine news indeed as, however many times you listen to this record, those final moments will still leave you wanting more.

I Speak Because I Can’ is a less immediate record than ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ and it is a step on from that record’s sound also, but it is a superb second offering and of a consistently high standard. While it doesn’t scream instant classic at you, after a dozen or so listens you’ll feel like there was never a time you hadn’t heard it. And that will make you feel good.

2010 on the record