The best music is personal music. Any musician can sing about archetypal subjects — rage, love, protest and adventure — but some artists convey a sense these topics actually matter to them.
When musicians bare their souls, it becomes so much more authentic and captivating. And that’s what Laura Marling brings to her music.
Marling, a British folk singer, possesses a powerful voice and a very personal, almost intimate sense of lyricism and songwriting. Her newest album, A Creature I Don’t Know, is a fresh showcase of her talent and displays a bolder touch to her style. The album is focused on her vocals and acoustic guitar work, but Marling isn’t afraid to let things get more intense with a rock edge.
Marling shows off her talent for wordplay in the first track, “Muse.” With an almost Bob-Dylan-esque delivery, she weaves in lyrics like Spoke of love like hunger / He at once was younger, ever younger, in my hunger for a muse. The song is by no means an upbeat tune, but Marling’s playful tone prevents the song from being categorized as a ballad or ode and is a great introduction to the album and her sound.
Part of what makes her songs so interesting and strangely intimate is the worldliness she infuses into each one. Marling is only 21, but her tracks speak of experiences in love, regret and loss far beyond her years. Mixed with her haunting, almost fragile voice, the album, as a whole, comes full circle as a raw display of intimacy.
It’s this intimate undertone that unites the album, as Marling sings of challenging patriarchal authority in “Salinas” and romantic innocence in “I Was Just a Card.” The topics range, but she threads the album with recurring themes that evoke palpable feelings. It’s not a concept album by any means, but A Creature I Don’t Know is a canvas of vivid emotions brought to song.
Though Marling’s style is rooted in folk — and her albums are mostly soft, haunting tunes — it does not mean the album lacks intensity. Rather than start off with a jam and fast guitars, she builds her songs up with momentum. “The Beast” is a powerful example of this, with the track steadily building in volume and anger. By the end of the song, drums and electric guitar join Marling’s voice as she deals with life’s demons.
And just as suddenly as the intensity builds, she goes back to her slower songs, such as “Night After Night.” The album, however, does a good job at avoiding disjunction. Instead, each transition is seamless.
Another song that picks up on Marling’s momentum is the penultimate song “Sophia.” Like “The Beast,” it starts slowly and softly, layering on instruments and volume until by the end it becomes a country-laced, playfully guitar-driven tune.
The album closes with “All My Rage,” which can best be described as an excellent distillation of Marling’s style. The track, probably the most Celtic and folk-driven of the album, is powered by her acoustic guitar playing.
Her talent with lyrics again shines through with clever use of language and imagery, as she sings, Oh cover me up, I’m pale as night / With a mind so dark and skin so white / Is this the devil having fun? / I’d tip my cap to the raging sun. And if the past tracks were driven by love and remorse, this one is one of progress, moving on from what she has been through.
This is not an album for rocking out in a car or for playing at a club. Instead, it’s one of those albums best reserved for a lonesome drive or a moment of quiet reflection. Marling is one of the few musicians out there who can make every song sound as if she is baring all of her soul. A Creature I Don’t Know might not be the year’s best album, but it is one of the most personal.