Review Summary: Ms. Marling wrestles with the Beast inside and crafts the most stunning album of her young career.
Laura Marling is something of a prodigy, a mere twenty-one with now three (excellent) albums to her name. The wunderkind of folk music got her start in London’s own scene at sixteen alongside groups like Mumford & Sons and Noah and the Whale, the wisdom and talent far surpassing her years since separating her from the pack (at least, in terms of quality and critical acclaim if not in record sales). Marling’s latest, A Creature I Don’t Know
, is a brilliant culmination and expansion of her work so far, taking her moving vocals, atmospheric guitar stylings, and visionary lyrics to new heights.
The charming simplicity found on Alas, I Cannot Swim
is alternated here with busier pieces showcasing extremely skillful composition. Banjo, strings, and horns can all, at times, be found layered against the refreshingly intricate guitar playing. Ethereally dark minor chords and note progressions reminiscent of one Nick Drake contrast sharply against a voice nothing short of angelic. A wide array of vocal deliveries showcases the versatility of Marling’s dusky voice, both powerful booming and near-whispering offering up poignant tales of real people and places, real love and strife. Vivid storytelling gives way to jarringly personal and insightful lines. Even upon being raptured to an entirely new world, the music and lyrics fill it with characters, situations, and emotions all too familiar.
The album centers around the “Beast”, an abstract force manifested throughout the album through both word and passages of distorted electric guitar. It acts on and through people, possessing and creating the struggle within to be pure and compassionate. The Beast makes its powerful presence felt on standout track “Salinas”, the heavy guitar imposing its will against the earthier fare of the Steinbeck-inspired slice of Americana. Following is the track bearing the creature’s name, growing darker and heavier still as the Beast takes hold and Laura warns “Put your eyes away if you can’t bear to see you old lady laying down next to the Beast.” The album draws to a close with “My Rage”, which finds Marling casting her anger to the elements and accepting the hand fate has dealt her - a fitting end to the tumultuous journey.
The young singer pours something of herself onto the record while again recollecting experiences and perceptions of a soul much older than she. Her prodigious talent here is further magnified by the skillful supporting band that goes far in immersing the listener in the candid portraits she paints. The thoughtful blending of dense arrangement and stripped-down subtlety offer a new dimension of texture for Laura Marling’s already unique sound. This refinement musically is augmented by the more complete, conceptual nature of A Creature I Don’t Know
, making it her most fulfilling release, one to join the ranks of the most revered titles in all of folk music. Most exciting of all, however, is the fact that she’s just getting started.