Singer-songwriter Laura Marling will release her new album, Semper Femina, this Friday 10thMarch. Dubbed an English national treasure by some, this will be her sixth record, and if her previous installments are anything to go by, will no doubt be received with critical acclaim and award nominations galore.
Translating loosely as as “Always Woman”, the album’s Latin title is taken from Virgil’s Aeneid (and reportedly tattooed on the artist): “Varium et mutabile semper femina – fickle and changeable always is woman” signals the preoccupation of this new set of characteristically reflective tracks. Determinedly dedicated to her unique slant on British and American folk, the character-led songs take an outward and inward look at femininity, sexuality and identity – at times gazing at other women from afar, at others contemplating how she looks from the outside – hooked around her own malleable voice and nimble, acoustic guitar fingering.
Opening track Soothing holds an eerie foreboding in its lolloping rhythm and harmonised vocals, with an intense latex-clad accompanying video hinting at an exploration of female sexuality and the voyeuristic gaze: “You can’t come in / You don’t live here anymore”. The Valley conjures a sun rising over bubbling brooks via guitar plucking and layered strings while contemplating mystery and loss: “She sings in the valley in the morning / Many a morning I have woke / Longing to ask her what she’s mourning / Of course I know it can’t be spoke”. On Don’t Pass Me By and standout country-vibe track Wild Fire, Marling turns up the sass, striking at the heart of our desire to know how we are seen from the outside, no doubt a relatable sentiment in the social media age and perhaps tugging at her own dislike of her own image being taken: “Wouldn’t you die to know how you seem? Are you getting away with who you’re trying to be?”.
Always This Way returns to a softer Nora Jones-esque quality while in Wild Once her singing almost comically breaks into authoritative speech: “I was wild once / And I can’t forget it”. Next Time lulls in its rhythm while Nouel studies a female figure referencing Gustave Courbet’s explicit 1866 “Origine du Monde” and plays on the album’s title to suggest a defiance against its implications: “A thousand artists’ muse / You’ll be anything you choose / Fickle and changeable are you / And long may that continue”. Nothing, Not Nearly closes the album on a climactic energy, heavy on the electric guitar and something of the seize the day mentality: “We’ve not got long, you know / To bask in the afterglow / Once it’s gone it’s gone / Love waits for no one”.
There’s a refreshing illusion of simplicity and grace in Marling’s music that is yet able to play with and layer rhythms, sounds and lyrics to convey a nuanced complexity of meaning and emotion. Her sound takes on ethereal yet quietly determined sensuality, her soft, husky, exacting vocals finding potency in each and every lyric. There is a knowing and wisdom, as well as steeliness and melancholia, in the sentiment and storytelling that would seem to stretch beyond her years.
Beautifully crafted, Semper Femina presents Marling’s unquenchable ability to create listenable ballads with emotional and intellectual depth. A fascinating study of femininity in all its incarnations.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 9th March.
Semper Femina is released on 10th March 2017, for further information or to order the album visit here.
Watch the video for Soothing here: