Besides her highly creative album cover designs and unpredictable titles (I Speak Because I Can and A Creature I Don’t Know come to mind) Laura Marling has managed to carve a niche for herself in the always difficult music industry. She has been a trailblazer for the last five years at a moment when the UK is awash with female singer songwriters. What makes Marling different from the Adeles, Duffys and (sadly late) Amys of this world is her ability to match arresting lyrics with beautiful and innovative arrangements.
Her debut album Alas I Cannot Swim is a good example of the above. At times poetic and at other times direct, the record showcases an artist who, despite her young age – she was barely eighteen when the album came out – displays the savvy incarnation of an older and more experienced woman. Ghosts, the Killer Opening Song is a classic example. The melody starts in third person singular telling the uncomplicated story of a man en route to meet his girlfriend/lover. Listeners are invited to follow him as “He walked down a busy street/Staring solely at his feet/Clutching pictures of past lovers at his side/Stood at the table where she sat/ And removed his hat/In respect of her presence/Presents her with the pictures and says: "These are just ghosts that broke my heart before I met you. These are just ghosts that broke my heart before I met you"
Already the tone is set. This is not going to be easy; he seems to be saying to his girlfriend/lover. He has skeletons in his closet. Or rather, ghosts.
Songs like this one make Alas I Cannot Swim a unique record and one that has made Laura Marling a kind of folk pin-up for people who don’t really listen to folk. Not that she cares about labels and categories. She just wants to make music. And with four albums to her name in a very short time (Once I Was an Eagle was released this year and it is fantastic), Killer Opening Songs doesn’t believe that her immediate goal is to become the figurehead of a movement. Laura has a lot to say, write and sing about and does it in the most impressive and liberated way.
As an Introductory Track With Murderous Intentions Ghost hints at this forward thinking approach, mixed with the sensibility of old folk. On which, a quick note, if Marling is folk, K.O.S. is a master of klezmer. Her style, if anyone attempted to categorise it would have to be pop with influences from folk and prog-rock (especially in her latest album). Her songwriting owes a lot to Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, but her arrangements would not be out of place on an Emerson, Lake and Palmer LP, or even Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother (If comes to mind). At the same time Laura Marling’s sound is her own.
The rest of the record continues in a similar vein of strong vocals, accordion riffs (Crawled Out of the Sea) and sombre drums (Night Terror). What is more important: Laura Marling is addictive. Get Alas I Cannot Swim and you will be getting the three albums that followed. All thanks to Ghosts, the Killer Opening Song.
Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 30th June at 10am (GMT)