Review: Laura Marling, Thekla

marling-17 February 2015

For the last few years Laura Marling has been living in Los Angeles. The darling of English folk, whose first, second and third albums were all nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, recently returned to her homeland after finding despondent loneliness in the city of millions. “If I didn’t have any friends here,” she remarked, “I would disappear.”

Stepping on board Thekla, Marling is here to promote here fifth studio album¬†Short Movie¬†having only just turned 25. Formed through extensively travel in the US, playing gigs to small bars, the title track comes from a chance encounter with an old hippy. “It’s a short fucking movie, man,” he would remark, eventually sparking an interest for Marling in mysticism and the occult.

This interest provided the spark for the new album. First song ‘False Hope’ introduces a rockier and more electric edge to Marling, suiting her new sharp pixie haircut, and bringing in aspects of the bayou, Native Americana and other US flutterings. The video for ‘Short Movie’ echoes that of ‘Do I Wanna Know’ by the Arctic Monkeys, were the former to be shot on a prairie. The only downside to this American influence is a very slight and unflattering Stateside twang to Marling’s otherwise perfectly RP voice.

It is this voice that really makes Marling stand out among the crowd of singer-songwriters. All the best singers have the ability to use vocal manipulation to their will, and Marling brings in aspects of talking, atonality and breaking to her otherwise sweet voice in a style reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. While her spiritually poetic lyrics are generally non-personal – she sings, for instance, that “my husband left me last night” – it more often than not appears to the listener that they are.

Telling the crowd that she remembers performing on the very same stage almost ten years ago, as a backing singer for Noah and the Whale, comes as a poignant reminder of just how far she has come since those tender early years of being labelled “the quiet one at the back.” The songs that she performs alone with her acoustic guitar, or with a hint of bowed upright bass, are in many ways the most heartfelt of the night.

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Marling has been criticised in the past for presenting a cold persona when performing. However, it should be argued that this is coolness rather than coldness, a distinction marked when a boorish punter bellows “FOOKIN’ TUNE!” Without missing a beat, Marling replies “my mother is in the audience.” She also shows a sweetness when a Welsh female rings out “I bloody love you Laura Marling, I bloody love you! Look at your outfit!”, failing to control her laughter during the following song.

It is also clear on the night that Marling is something of a perfectionist. The sound quality for one thing is superb, actually making the material sound better than it does on record. She is unafraid to pause mid-song to ask the sound technician “Dave, can you turn my vocals down”, before seamlessly continuing. Material from the latest album is sprinkled with old favourites such as ‘Devil’s Spoke’ and ‘Rambling Man’ to make the performance a stand out event.

8/10

Conal Dougan