Review Summary: An imperfectly beautiful transition born out of soul-searching
In this day and age, there lies a fair chance that a twenty-something will enter some sort of quarter-life crisis. For Laura Marling, it began after a set of scrapped album sessions and a rejection from a writing program in upstate New York. Finding herself plagued with doubts about continuing to make music, Marling embarked on a period of extensive soul-searching at Joshua Tree, Los Angeles, and other parts of California before finally settling down and writing her new album with her father’s Gibson electric guitar. This recent lack of confidence as well as a lesser emphasis on thematic and sonic cohesion seen throughout the album may suggest to some that the 25 year old’s newest offering is filled with a desire to back off from the ambitions that fueled Once I Was An Eagle
. But Short Movie
isn’t so much about lowering the stakes as it is about dabbling in new ideas and subtly pushing into new directions. Though there is plenty of electric guitar throughout the album, much of it involves Marling’s signature melodies, and where is there is acoustic guitar, a focus on rhythm and texture is evident. Indeed, Short Movie
is a fairly different beast compared to what’s come before from the Hampshire songstress, but it proves to be just as engrossing.
Throughout the album, Marling sonically and lyrically weaves her spiritual meanderings effectively into several of her songs, along with the themes of independence and womanhood that she has explored before. Opening salvo Warrior finds Marling playing with atmosphere, as a dense wash accompanies her rumbling guitar line, with vocal reverb strategically applied to emphasize her lyrics: “I can’t be your horse anymore/ you’re not the warrior I am looking for.” It’s a line that’s sexual as much as it is a rejection of being submissive to another’s viewpoint, and one can almost feel the wind and dust swirling around her vocal. Strange is almost entirely spoken-word with Marling’s wise and pragmatic words for an adulterer only accompanied by light, chugging percussion and rapid guitar strums: “I can offer you so little help/ Just accept the hand that you’ve been dealt/ and do your best to be a good man.” Easy most directly addresses the singer’s directionless phase, as only gentle guitar accompanies Marling and her vital realizations: “Well, you can’t be lost if you’re not on your own/ Well, you can’t be found if you’re not all alone”.
In addition to the spiritual and mystical, a sun-drenched Californian influence permeates several other songs here, acting as a lovely counterbalance to the downtempo songs on the album. Walk Alone has bright guitar tones as the backbone of the song, acting as gentle rays of light while solemn strings bolster Marling’s vocal, which towards the end has her trying an airy, tender, and vulnerable falsetto. Gurdjieff’s Daughter, named for a renowned spiritual teacher, has upbeat guitar chords acting as a musical foil to the singer’s sometimes nebulous philosophical musings: “Keep those eyes wide/ Keep your eyes on the back of your mind.” Please Don’t Let Me Bring You Down has similar bright jangly guitars that helps to keep the album’s pacing afloat.
Towards the beginning of the album, False Hope finds Marling’s vocal vying for space amongst the edgy guitar lines and drums heavy in the mix. The energy of this urgent rocker juxtaposes well against her lingering self-doubt: “Is it still okay that I don’t know how to be at all?” And throughout most of the tracks that follow, Marling struggles to find any meaningful answers to her quandaries concerning life and her tenuous philosophy. It isn’t until the title track, a slowly blossoming song that builds to a full steady gallop, that Marling comes across an answer: “It’s a short ***ing movie, man!” It’s a statement heard from a mystic Marling spent time with during her travels, and it is a line that speaks to our mortality just as much as that man’s unwavering philosophy that one should embrace life to the fullest. By the time the song reaches its satisfying conclusion, Marling repeats that mystic’s mantra to herself, until it becomes her own. It wasn’t too long ago when Marling found herself trying to shrug off comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake and the idea that the stunning maturity on display in her albums stood in contrast to her young age. Now, Short Movie
finds Marling trying on a new skin, armed with revised philosophies and a new lease on life. While it is a transitional album that doesn’t quite reach the highs of Once I Was An Eagle
, its imperfect beauty is truly something to behold.