I Speak Because I Can (March 22, 2010)
Virgin Records (UK)
Laura Marling is one of those distant public characters who whilst shunning the limelight in a celebrity sense, on the musical side of things never fail to impress with their innovation and creativity. Off the back of a stunning debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim.. the undisputed first lady of British folk attracted as much mainstream attention for her seventeen years as she did for her playing ability and lyrical prowess. At the time in a relationship with Charlie Fink of Noah & The Whale, the folk-pop band's lead singer in turn produced Marling's first album. But the demise of this relationship in the years following eventually led to not only Noah & The Whale's controversial 'First Days of Spring', a downbeat shoegazing album and partial tribute to their relationship, but also a long-standing break from her wealth of 2007 musical collaborations for the young musician. Growing closer to and frequently touring with Mumford & Sons - Marling eventually entered into a relationship with lead singer Marcus Mumford.
Perhaps linking music with high profile relationships is not standard practise for an album review, but when all three parties in this supposed London folk soap opera write so personally and beautifully about their inner emotions, these ties seem so much more relevant. I Speak Because I Can.. is filled with themes of depression "I'm clearing all the crap out of my room // trying desperately to figure out what it is that makes me blue" - the breakdown of relationships, as well as natural and religious imagery. Indeed the first track of the album, Devil's Spoke tells of lust and fragility through the medium of religious reference "hold your devil by his spoke and spin him to the ground". The sinister feel behind the lyrics of this song are matched and exceeded by some of the darkest folk chords Marling has recorded to date. In a similar vein to previous album opener 'Ghosts' - she tackles issues head on in 'Devil's Spoke' with a high tempo and emotionally strung song-writing unparalleled across the rest of the album.
Confrontational is the word to describe I Speak...The title is certainly suggestive of an empowering ability to take things into your own hands, an idea not so clear from Alas, I Cannot Swim. I Speak.. It has its tranquil moments, a lot of them - but it is often the calmest introductions which ultimately come to brood with the most sinister strums and the darkest of piano notes. This album is truly as turbulent as they come. Alpha Shadows brims with anger, "I'll fall and I'll fall and I'll fall" proceeding an intense and dynamic build up into the shades of personality that Marling's lyrics merely touch upon. Blackberry Stone and Made By Maid are more relaxed, and really bring out influences from Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell in the 60s folk recording style. The switch from Charlie Fink to Kings of Leon producer Ethan Johns certainly plays a part in this. As the acoustics have got crisper, so has the range and texture Laura Marling's voice - which through her polite song-writing, she manages to imply far more than she forces demonstrations. Notes and melodies which are comparatively simple Marling pulls off with a vocal sound and honest delivery like no other.
In short, I Speak.. certainly proves that a singer so offended by a one-time comment from a fan that her songs were "pretty folk songs about boys" could not be further from some of her given descriptions. I Speak.. displays ever-stronger poetic lyricism in better recorded, increasingly dynamic and mood-swinging traditional folk music. Laura Marling has exceeded all expectation in her follow-up.
Laura Marling - Blackberry Stone (MP3)
Laura Marling - Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) (MP3)