Laura Marling's Semper Femina: What You Need To Know
Hampshire-born singer songwriter Laura Marling may only be 27 years of age, but a browse though her career history is indicative of an artist who has been around for much longer. Barely 18 by the release of her debut album, Alas, I Cannot Swim, Marling had by then already joined and left an early line-up of folk-rockers Noah and the Whale and performed shows with the future members of Mumford & Sons, once famously performing in the street outside a venue after being refused entry to her own gig for being underage.
First emerging amidst the 'nu-folk' scene that included her aforementioned peers, as well as the likes of Jamie T and The Moldy Peaches, Marling has already released five albums – three of which have been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize – and picked up several awards including Best British Female at the 2011 BRITs and Best Solo Artist at the NME Awards that same year.
In November of 2016, just 18 months on from the release of her fifth full-length offering, 2015's Short Movie, this week she returns with album number six. It's called Semper Femina, it arrives in stores today and here's everything you need to know...
A little background...
After four albums which, broadly speaking, fell very much under the 'folk' category, her last outing on Short Movie marked a bit of a change in direction, with some of the album's 13 songs – particularly the title track and others like 'Don't Let Me Bring You Down' – representing a shift towards a more alt-rock influenced sound. Self-produced with help from engineers Dan Cox and Matt Ingram, the album was influenced by her move to Los Angeles and the subsequent feelings of alienation that followed, as well as other sources of inspiration, such as the work of legendary film director Alejandro Jodorowsky.
A tour in support of the album followed before Marling set about writing for her next album, previewing some early versions of the songs on a brief tour across a handful of American cities last year. In November it was announced that her sixth LP would arrive in March with the title Semper Femina, a partial quote from the ancient Roman poet Virgil that Marling has tattooed on her thigh and which means, in literal translation, 'always a woman'.
Who's producing it?
This time around Marling has worked alongside Blake Mills, whose previous credits include Fiona Apple, John Legend and Alabama Shakes.
Any special guests?
Nope, it's just Marling on her own here.
What does it sound like?
The first thing to note here is that if Short Movie gave you the sense that Marling was making a gradual shift into alt-rock territory, this might not be the album you're expecting. The folk influence is once again the dominant vibe, but where hints of electric guitar-propelled rock peppered its predecessor, here there are elements of jazz muscling in on the action. Single 'Soothing' is a case in point, with its lounging upright bass and minimalist percussion underpinning an intimate and laid-back vocal performance.
There is, however, no single style across the length of the album and where songs like 'Wild Fire' exhibit a country music influence, others such as 'Next Time' emit a familiar folk feel that fans of her earlier work will find more recognisable.
Containing just nine songs in all, Semper Femina is an economic record, for sure, but there's definitely no wastage here and its relatively short running time produces an album that is concise and focussed.
Does it deliver?
As has always been the case with Laura Marling, the maturity present in her songwriting belies her relatively young age and despite her prolific output over the last decade, this is an artist who seems aware that there is no rush to try out every style under the sun, instead gradually processing a wide range of influences at once and building her own style. That natural progression continues on Semper Femina and while we wouldn't want to discount any of her earlier records – all of which we've enjoyed – her latest album is evidence of an artist who is more and more aware of her abilities and increasingly able to use them to their fullest extent. This is another very strong offering from one of the UK's most singularly talented singer-songwriters and we see no reason why that shouldn't continue for many, many more years to come.
If you are yet to hear anything from Semper Femina, you can find the video for 'Soothing' below, directed by Marling herself. You can also preview and purchase the album at the top-right of this page...