laura marling’s 2013 album, once i was an eagle, was perhaps the epitome of the english folk aesthetic she had developed over the past five years. marling had perfected an intimate style of songwriting that also employed subtly intricate guitar work – reminiscent of, say, nick drake – and drew appropriate comparisons to sharon van etten and joni mitchell as well, but her voice was immediately recognizable: less mournful but just as frank.
still, acoustic timbres can run the risk of becoming severely limiting, especially after four albums in such a short amount of time. it makes sense that marling felt burnt out, but we’re very fortunate that she’s returned to the game with short movie, an album that slowly eases into a vast and more inclusive soundscape.
there’s an immediacy felt on “warrior,” the static opener of short movie, that wasn’t as present in marling’s previous material. the metaphor is thinly veiled to allow her exhaustion with her subject to easily cut through, and it’s delivered via a haze of white noise and plaintive guitar textures that all but foreshadow the album’s lyrical tone. but rather than grinding out fifty minutes of sparse, sorrowful ballads, marling partially circumvents the heavy thematic material with a variety of tempo choices and more expansive arrangements. “false hope” is the first taste of marling in a primarily electric setting, one that becomes increasingly familiar throughout the course of the album. with a full band in tow one can almost get pulled away from the heartbreaking subject matter, but its unshakable presence is renewed with each cadence of the song’s title.
marling’s electric guitar doesn’t feel like a crutch or a gimmick; it doesn’t change how she approaches songwriting harmonically nor does it become the singular focus of short movie, but it does provide her with new, complementary timbres (“walk alone”) and the extra weight to handle dense compositions (“false hope,” “don’t let me bring you down’). if anything, it’s a necessary tool needed to dole out the stark musical contrast absent from her previous albums. marling is still at her best on acoustic-charged numbers like “strange” and “easy,” and this new foil ensures that they aren’t glossed over.
short movie reads like another break-up album, subject matter that marling handles with aplomb. feelings of inadequacy and moments of self-doubt are so dutifully chronicled that although marling is speaking from personal experience, many issues and scenarios feel within the grasp of the audience. still, marling never shows her full hand; short movie comes across as a non-linear storyline, with pledges of self-betterment (“divine”) and sly all-knowing sneers (“gurdjieff’s daughter”) breaking up the darker emotions with which she grapples.
the weight of marling’s subject matter was never unbearable on previous outings, but the absence of a clearly sequential narrative breathes a bit of new life into her album structure. lyrical turns are sometimes unexpected and are augmented by the subtle timbral enhancements that inform each song’s composition. short movie is a logical permutation of marling’s well-crafted sound, one that leaves a slim margin for error or inaccessibility. whether or not this somewhat conservative approach appeals to all is another question, but marling is still one of the most enthralling songwriters at work today. give short movie a spin.