With ‘Once I Was An Eagle’, Laura Marling earned her stripes as one of the key folk artists of her generation. Relentlessly pursuing naivety, while wryly tossing around sly references to greats like Bob Dylan - and, indeed, Marling‘s own formidable reputation - it was a complex, intense, and hugely accomplished record. It came from a place of questioning loneliness, too. “All I see is road / No-one takes me home/ Where can I go?” she sang, with new honest, vulnerability. Following her fourth album, Laura Marling’s reputation preceded her. Belonging, though, still eluded her. In interviews she openly admitted several times that she was considering packing the music thing in altogether.
Marling’s fifth album sees her falling back in love with music all over again after a long bout of urban alienation in LA. While ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ was a master of taut, stringently forensic string arrangements, ‘Short Movie’ has a cinematic, wide-eyed joy, and Marling’s writing seems freer, and less rigorous. ‘False Hope’, inspired by the experience of being trapped in a New York Air Bnb during Hurricane Sandy, swirls round in a sea of electric guitars. ‘Gurdjieff’s Daughter’, - a song named after a mystic’s daughter who teaches artists to rediscover their creativity - pulls a huge chorus out of its back pocket with the ease of somebody producing a lighter.
There’s a strain of playfulness to this record, too. ‘Strange Love’ sees Laura Marling adopting the kind of stilted, burring delivery that should come free with a bit of wheat to chew on. “I don’t love you like you love me, I’m pretty sure that you know,” she shrugs, sardonically and then, just when it seems like she’s messing about, the sincerity returns with one flawless high note. ‘Walk Alone’ is oddly beautiful, Marling’s vocals soaring, and cracking interchangeably. Marling’s production across the whole album - her first time in the producer’s chair - pans about with the loosed, slightly unhinged abandon of Captain Beefheart. Consistently, ‘Short Movie’ is wonderfully unlike anything she has ever attempted before.
Laura Marling has always been an expert in holding her audience back at arms length, transfiguring her experiences into water spirits and soaring birds of prey. With this in mind it’s unexpected and somewhat disarming to hear questions like “is it still ok that I don’t know how to be alone?” on ‘Short Movie’. For the first time, Marling seems to explicitly crave connection. Undoubtedly this will not be the last time that Laura Marling rips up her own rulebook and surprises us all over again.