Laura Marling Laura MarlingA Creature I Don’t Know
Laura Marling begins “A Creature I Don’t Know” in a broad American accent. Not a spent-the-summer-stateside lilt; a full on Texas Twang. However – rather than an unconscious affectation, Marling is arguably making a statement of intent. “A Creature I Don’t Know” is not a confessional, autobiographical work; it’s a collection of stories, with re-occurring characters and themes. Yes, the artist’s experience is always implicit in the art – but here she makes her status as an unreliable narrator abundantly clear.
The opening track – “The Muse” – also signposts Marling’s departure from the new-folk path of her previous two releases. Folk is still a driving force, but there are additional factors at play – a jazz infused piano, a bluegrass banjo, a bossa nova beat. Although the references to Joni Mitchell are still apt, it’s her “Court And Spark”. It’s Nick Drake’s “Bryter Layter”, Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”. In short: the production is rich.
Perhaps the biggest shift in sound comes with “The Beast”. A snarling, thrashing epic: heavy and bold in its resolve. Here her voice ventures into unexplored territory - only occasionally returning to the soaring purity we have come to expect. Marling’s chest resonates with rage, her lip curls in contempt ( “what I suggest is you be grateful there is no blood on my hands”). It’s not pretty; an example of her burgeoning confidence. She accepts her talent -she’s proved she has a beautiful voice - now she can toy with its expression. Her curiosity is exhilarating.
Marling’s curiosity extends to her use of language. Her love of words is evident; she chews over the syllables with the laconic intonation of Bill Callahan ( “my mother was the saviour / of six feet of bad behaviour”). She experiments with internal rhymes and rhythms ( “I have been wandering / where I have been pondering”) witty parallels surfacing in unexpected places. The woman has a way with words. “Night After Night” in particular owes a lot to the master lyricist Leonard Cohen - a simply plucked chord progression, underscoring an observant and heart-breaking refrain ( “A tempting communion / It's a fate foretold / It is knowing / It is knowing / What it is that you're told”). Here the focus is very much on the song writing and gosh: it’s good.
It’s very easy to trace Marling’s musical lineage through “A Creature I Don’t Know”: the foot stomping harmonies of The Roches, the easy ascensions of Sandy Denny, the curt asides of Bob Dylan. However the shadows of her influences do not obscure her. Similarly the characters, the stories, the accents she adopts are inquisitive explorations, rather than appropriations. Of course, that’s not to say she has refined her craft or defined her discourse to the heady heights of the aforementioned artists. But – in the words of every critic out there – she’s 21; she’s still discovering her work. Through the voices of many, Laura Marling is finding her own.