“To find a queen without a king / They say she plays guitar and cries and sings”

Short Movie

Laura Marling
Ribbon Music

Legend has it that these lyrics from the famous Led Zeppelin record, “Going to California,” were written by the Robert Plant and Jimmy Page upon meeting Joni Mitchell among the groupies and drugged-up music scene of California in the ’70s. Her ethereal appearance, free-form spirit and inexplicably firm grasp on the emotions of the human heart had the boys enamored, leaving her as an object of affection for the hopelessly romantic, excessively drugged rock ‘n’ rollers of the California communes.

Joni held her fair share of heartbreak, too. Her 1971 album, Blue, with its octave-jumping vocals, glossy piano and acoustic guitar instrumentations, is still considered one of the most perfect relationship postmortem records. It’s a retrospective looking back on the good and bad of a relationship, with added reflections of her experiences in California and tattered relationships — drawing the face of Leonard Cohen on the map of Canada in “A Case of You” — and continues to sonically mend the breaking hearts of today.

A critical eye can easily demarcate the modern folk/singer-songwriter genre as one domineered by men. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, Joni was matched by a number of female singer-songwriters: Carly Simon, Carole King, Janis Ian and Joan Baez, just to name a few. The music anthologies of the past decade are seemingly lacking popular, well-written female folk music. Much is seemingly lost to the electronics and production styles of the 21st century. To rescue the genre, to pioneer a voice similar to that of the all feeling, unafraid Joni – a woman finding confidence and understanding in her poetic description of her life experiences – is found in a 25-year-old, pixie-cut, thin English young woman. The voice Joni once provided so many decades ago is recreated and individualized in the musical anthology of Laura Marling.

The daughter of a recording studio owner, Marling was the youngest daughter of three to the Sir Charles William Somerset Marling, the 5th Marling Baronet. Her introduction to music was early, and by the age of sixteen she had written her first hit in the light, simple single “New Romantic.” Re-settling on the outskirts of London with her sisters, Marling’s career took off almost immediately. She was swept into numerous impressive recording studios and the “nu-folk” community that had begun to emerge from the London music scene in the mid-’00s, among the like being the now-famous names of Mumford & Sons, Noah and the Whale, Johnny Flynn or Emmy the Great. Laura performed and recorded with these acts in her early career, and famously fell into romantic relationships with two of these burgeoning artists. In a very Joni fashion, Laura has songs written about her by ex-boyfriends Marcus Mumford and Charlie Fink.

Laura’s thoughts on love and romance are unchangeably embedded in her lyrics over her past four albums. Vacillating flawlessly between the vulnerability, hurt and bliss of relationships of the personal and fictional kind, her past four albums have carried breathtaking, yet similar, lyrical themes with undeniably congruent instrumentations — sometimes hazy or sometimes stormy production styles, an acoustic guitar and Marling’s immensely intriguing vocal range. So in order to descend from her consistencies, to escape her doubts in her early-fame music career, and to re-center her life’s inspiration, Laura, like Joni, went to California.

“How did I get lost looking for God in Santa Cruz? / Where you go to lose your mind” sings Marling on “Easy.” Marling transformed her world prior to her writing and recording of her fifth studio album, Short Movie. She moved to Los Angeles in 2012 for a boy she had fallen in love with, but a short amount of time revealed that her visa was to last much longer than the relationship. She decided to extend her time in the States, bought a house in California and drove around to indifferent regions of the United States to perform small and completely self-organized gigs. In her recent interview with The Guardian, Marling describes herself as “physically wrecked and spiritually broken” by her time on the road and decided to take six months off. Here, she truly came undone: applying anonymously and then facing rejection from a poetry workshop in Saratoga Springs, New York, taking up a small restaurant job in California to cover excess costs and spending time with the shamans and hippies she met in the small places of California.

With this new collection of experiences, voices and perspectives Marling reworked her sound into an exquisite album. To match the underlying aggression, the album’s sound and lyrics appear to hold, Short Movie adds more electric guitar and heavy production sounds than any album Marling has previously recorded. There’s more room to the album’s songs, with less strict acoustic guitar lines and more fading bass notes. Despite the album’s innovation, however, Short Movie continues to hold the honest and storytelling lyrics Marling has consistently provided. “I don’t believe this shit / You know I was doing fine without it” sings Marling in “Walk Alone” as she beckons herself to rediscover her independence following the rejection of a former love. Poetic anecdotes continue in the electrified track “False Hope,” a song that illustrates Marling’s experience on the Upper West Side of New York City during 2014’s Hurricane Sandy storms.

But in the album’s title track, “Short Movie,” the greatest poetic punch is found. Quoting the life mantra of a shaman shared with her in a California bar, Marling excessively repeats, “It’s a short fucking movie, man.” For Mitchell or Marling listeners, those who connect and thrive on their musical poetry, there is much to gain from shaman’s advice: Despite the doubts, heartaches, and never-ending life crises, sometimes the life analysis must end and the living must continue.

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