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"I Speak Because I Can"

Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
24 March 2010, 08:30 Written by Andrew Grillo
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After recording her Mercury Nominated debut at the age of 18 and since been the subject of Noah and The Whale's painfully graphic break up record The First Days of Spring, Laura Marling is perhaps an unlikely subject for some of the indie music press' more tabloid indulgences. It seems barely a review or article seems to pass without mention of her age or private life (look there, I've done it myself). Despite the unflinchingly positive critical attention that has been sent in her direction it seems that although Marling is a figure that attracts attention she is still seen by some as someone that is hard to warm to. This may be down to a sometimes almost wilfull youthful shyness that put a distance between herself and those who may be drawn to her music ordinarily.I Speak Because I Can is one of two records recorded with Ethan Johns (the other apparently penciled in for an Autumn release) and finds Marling in a more confident place than on Alas I Cannot Swim, indeed in interviews she has described herself as “an almost completely different person” which is typical second album sound bite but is also to be expected given the time that has passed and the events that occurred over that time.So let's get those 'Noah' comparisons out of the way. While it bears mention as the lyrical content covers the same events, this is not a companion piece to '...Spring'. The themes of romance are present here but these are less a riposte and more an elaboration and investigation on the matters Marling has covered herself previously. What has changed is her use of characters to not so much tell stories, as convey her own thoughts. Where Alas... was a deeply personal and raw exploration of emotion as can only be wrought from one so young, ISBIC is more measured; jagged edges have been rounded off which leads to a more mature and impressive craft in the songwriting, but also leads to the spark that made Marling such an interesting prospect initially, having dimmed.Unsurprisingly, authenticity seems an important issue for Marling, and both in style and content she seems to have made a conscious decision to regress into stock folk instrumentation and genre traditions ”“ lead single Devil's Spoke is a prime example with it's twanging banjos and clattering Bodrhans and lines such as “But the love of your life lives but lies no more /where she lies is where a flower grows”.Death, that favourite of folkies also rears it's head on the absolute stand-out moment of the album; the slow burning 'Blackberry Stone'. Here we find a devastating string arrangement and a moving vocal that finally finds Marling engaging with the arrangement. The track moves slowly towards it's conclusion and as Marling ruefully repeats “I couldn't turn my back on the world for what I like/wouldn't let me” you realise it's made it's way quite firmly under your skin. Understated yet grandiose, this is what Marling admirers would have been hoping she could produce from first encountering her.Conversely, 'Made By Maid' is one of a number of tracks on the album that sees Marling distance herself emotionally from the tale she is spinning and as such, the intensity that she is capable of is lost and the track is left to meander. Rambling Man at least manages some gusto and sees Marling perhaps referencing her creative process (and not for the last time on the album) “it's funny that the first chords that you come to/are the minor ones...”.I Speak Because I Can is somewhat of a strange beast disguised as a fairly conventional second album. As you expect the palette has been broadened ”“ from the zither that dances on 'Alpha Shallows' to the melancholy flute that signals the opening of highlight 'Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)'.Despite this maturity and the lightness of touch present throughout there is a nagging feeling throughout that Marling feels she has something to prove and can't truly relax, and while at this stage the impression is of a record that is less than the sum of it's parts it's perhaps best to file under one needing further investigation.Look out for our interview with Laura next week on TLOBF
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