12 March 2017

Laura Marling - Semper Femina

Laura Marling is an artist which I have sort of stumbled into liking than one that I have consciously followed; upon checking my collection I own three of her previous albums (including the Mercury Music Prize nominated 'Once I Was An Eagle' (review cleverly linked here)) and I am sure I have enjoyed them, but apart from 'Once I Was An Eagle' I cannot remember how I got them or when I was listening to them.  For me, she is the sort of artist that I have enjoyed without knowing it.  No offense meant to Ms Marling, it just sorts of happened without me being aware of it.  Anyway, since I last listened to Laura Marling, she released 'Short Movie' in 2015 and then she stopped doing music for a while and exploring non-musical opportunities, in a recent interview she was exploring the idea of being anonymous and having no identity of genre; it is an intriguing thought, to remove that part of yourself and to adopt an almost androgenises persona and it must have had some sort of effect on the album - the translation of 'Semper Femina' is 'Always a Woman' and that relationship between all these thoughts must be explored on this record.  Two years away from releasing a new album is not that much of a break, but maybe the call to write more songs was too strong. So, how has it turned out?

01 - Soothing

'Soothing' was the first song to be released from the album in November 2016, it is a sparse and folk/jazz hybrid number with heavy focus on the bass and vocals throughout the song.  It is a song that is essentially about the break of a connection and communication breakdown.  It is strange song to be the first release for me as it is not your stereotypical opening track, it is off the track and a hard listen.  For me personally, I find it intriguing and the bass work is exceptional to these ears.

02 - The Valley

'The Valley' is a song that considers people being incommunicado and out of touch, they are around and they are also in hiding from someone as well.  It is gentle with a repetitive guitar strumming and strings added to show when a chorus starts as there is not too much difference between the guitar work and it drones on a little bit.  Ms Marling's vocals are as pretty as always and it sounds nice enough, but it does not seem to go anyway to be honest.

03 - Wild Fire

Oh, never cross this woman - she does not hold back in any way, shape or form on this song!  Musically it is a gentle afternoon, strumming guitar, the keyboard it hit every now and then, the bass is supportive and the percussion of brushes and gentle cymbals.  But the words are hard, with a bite to the tale of separation and setting some definitive boundaries.  It is a song that has a fiery independent status and I applaud that show of self, knowing when enough is enough; but I am not a fan of the song itself as it just seems to pass me by.  So, great message - musically not my cup of tea.

04 - Don't Pass Me By

A song that is stuck between gothic/art house film noir and pleading for help, 'Don't Pass Me By' is a solemn piece of music that seems to be lost in the world full of dark heights and the sick taint of neon lights.  It reminds me a lot of Lana Del Ray around her 'Ultraviolence' period and this is not coming from a safe place and it is a heartbreaker, one that needs to be approached with caution.

05 - Always This Way

'Always This Way' feels like a hymn or a lullaby to making mistakes and never reflecting on the events which are doomed to be repeated over and over again.  There is loss on this number, I am not too sure if it is a friend, lover or a Mother figure, but the pain is solid on this one and it does have an ironic defiance to part of the music as well.

06 - Wild Once

This song is incredible British, the vocals are almost spoken in places and it has a haunted feeling to the music.  It is a simple song, but simple can be dangerous in the right hands and this one is moments; it is also the first song since 'Soothing' on this album that I have found engaging, this will be reflected upon later in the review.

07 - Next Time

There is a shanty feeling to the guitar on this one, it feels like rhythmical tune that is to be used to pass time and it jumps around a lot with an interesting hook.  But even after many spins, it is not having a massive impact and it sort of drifts after a while. It is decent, but it is not a song I would return to (but not one I would turn off either - sometimes my relationship with music can be so complicated).

08 - Nouel

'Nouel' is a song about friendship, love and the deep connection that can be held by people over the years, or at least that is how it appears to me.  It is just Laura Marling and the guitar for the most part here and this is definitely one of the strongest songs of the album, it plays to the strengths and there is a definitive start and end point to this song with a great performance threaded through every note.  Also, the end part of the recording when you can hear the strings being rested adds a quality to the number that rises it above most of the album......

09 - Nothing, Not Nearly

.... until the start of 'Nothing, Not Nearly'.  My deity, what a tune we have here!  A love song that is full of the pitfalls, traps and endings, the quality of her song writing comes out on this song.  From the first moment, I heard it, I could hear the talent behind the song, time and effort which went into creating the song.  The lyrics are song out of time with the music, it has huge gaps and it always feels like it is going to crash at any moment.  But it is held together with a talent and passion, something which is not taught, it can only come naturally and it ends this album with the door being closed, as if this period of her life is over.

Now, I am not going to lie here and say this is a brilliant record, it has a few floors and takes so long to get itself together that is almost over by the time the quality starts to shine through.  Also, I am not going to say it is an awful album as it has a contender for the best song of 2017 in 'Nothing, Not Nearly' (no joke, that is a perfect song which gave this album two marks just for existing) and Laura Marling is a really good artist who I think has more to give the world.  But this album does not showcase her at the peak of that talent, it feels like she is in state of transcendent and moving to something else - hopefully it will work out best for her.  So, a little average with some top quality.

6 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but it is not quite there

Top track - Nothing, Not Nearly

You can purchase Semper Femina on Amazon here.

You can visit the Laura Marling website here.

You can follow the activities of Laura Marling on Facebook here.

You can stream Semper Femina on Spotify here.

You can stream Semper Femina on Deezer here.

You can stream Semper Femina on Tidal here.

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