Review Summary: A collection of chirpy and beautiful songs that showcase Marling’s prowess as a musician.
Although only eighteen, Laura Marling’s presence on her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim
is seemingly brimming with the experience and emotion of someone far older than she, her more than suitable voice bringing her lyrical imagery to life, fluidly playing over the subtle instrumentation. She may be joining an already expansive group of musicians, but Marling definitely sticks out from among the rest. Her debut album is a very bright album, even through its several melancholic tracks; there is a pleasant quality to Marling’s voice that remains constantly hopeful and endearing. Not a single track goes awry from the album’s initial focus – although the catchier, poppier songs occasionally contrast with the serious numbers, it is a welcome contrast, one which does nothing more than add to the platform of Marling’s versatility.
Beginning the album with ‘Ghosts’, one of her more well known tracks, Marling introduces us to her cheerful voice with an almost rapidly delivered verse, before smoothing out the song with a delicate and restrained chorus. The song is remarkably likable, and serves as an engaging beginning to the album. The next two tracks, ‘Old Stone’ and ‘Tap At My Window’ are slower, seemingly fragile, but Marling makes sure to empower each song with her powerful voice. Both begin gently and work their way up to a crescendo, using the saturating effect of strings to really drive Marling’s position. The build up in ‘Tap At My Window’ is very fluid, and its ensuing climax is definitely a highlight of the album.
‘Failure’ continues on with the mellow feel of the previous two tracks but with ‘You’re No God’ Marling returns to the cheery stance of the album’s opener, a heavily strummed guitar and catchy beat playing along besides Marling and her backup vocalists. Its position on the album is well thought out, giving the album a sense of diversity in relation to its mood and direction. ‘Night Terror’ is perhaps the album’s highest point, with Marling giving an almost soulful performance in what is a moving and somewhat haunting song. To pick a single song among so many greats, ‘Night Terror’ would be the one to really portray Marling’s maturity as an artist.
Closing the album with ‘Your Only Doll (Dora)’, the album strays from its predictable makings into experimental territory; the track being twice as long as any other song on the album, its first half seems unfulfilling as the way to finish off the album. However, after a short interlude of birds chirping, the song concludes with a folky and warming passage that is an unlikely conclusion to Alas, I Cannot Swim
; it reiterates the nostalgic and jovial structure of the album in the most subtle of ways, and in hindsight is definitely a pleasant finish to what is a very charming album.
As mentioned before, Marling’s debut sticks out from its contemporaries; the album itself does not have any inherent weaknesses, and in terms of engagement surpasses the likes of Lykke Li
or even Russian Red
. The album is void of any tension, purposeful or otherwise, and remains constantly natural and genuine; a delight to listen to, and even more delightful to write about. Highly recommended.