Laura Marling - Alas I Cannot Swim
Review by Jack Foley
LAURA Marling is an artist who keeps surprising me, always pleasantly. Each time I think I have the measure of her, she does something different to convince me she’s a very exceptional artist.
When I first heard her single Ghosts, I was prepared to label has as “just another folk singer” with echoes of Norah Jones and Katie Melua. Come the end of the track, however, it had changed pace and succeeded in having me rethinking about my comparisons. There was a touch of the KT Tunstall about the rousing finale to the song, which made me hanker to hear more.
Two tracks into Alas I Cannot Swim, I’d begun to think that maybe Ghosts was the exception to the rule – the standout track that was the easy pick for a single because it dared to be different.
There was nothing particularly wrong with tracks like Old Stone and Tap At My Window – they come to life thanks to Marling’s beautiful vocals (sometimes husky, sometimes whispered, occasionally breezy, always notable in some way). But perhaps it was the tempo that needed a little life, or the fact that I’d been spoiled with Ghosts.
But then just as You’re No God threatened to deliver another slow-burning acoustic folk song, Marling ups the tempo to agreeable affect and succeeded in winning me over once more. Rather than merely praising “yet another assured folk singer”, she was back to getting me excited.
Cross Your Fingers (a dark nursery rhyme) continued the upward surge in the album’s fortunes, emerging as a huskily delivered, uptempo song that builds to a really strong chorus complete with some notable lyrics (“cross your fingers, hold your toes, we’re all gonna die when the building blows…”). It’s a clever mix of dark lyrics and upbeat melodies that elevate it above the norm.
Crawled Out To Sea then totally blew me away. Opening in a capella form, it then proceeds to unfold into an elaborate carnival number that’s almost cinematic in scope (complete with rousing backing vocals). The horn section that comes in towards the end is a particularly nice touch and one that’s sure to put a smile on the face. It’s just a shame that it’s so short (well, it’s an interlude track).
But My Manic And I mixes acoustic folk with some lovely vocal moments, before then teasing the listener with some subtle piano chords. It’s a quietly shimmering record that just keeps delivering more instrumentally, so much so that you’ll be singing her praises once again.
Night Terror is a beautifully dark song which thrives on some foreboding guitar work and another strong vocal performance, while The Captain And The Hourglass mixes tempos with glee and succeeds in delivering another strong story. Once more, I found myself likening her to KT Tunstall.
Shine is, quite simply, a stripped-back, acoustic gem that wouldn’t sound out of place on a soundtrack like Juno (an iTunes favourite), while the album plays out to the sound of birds tweeting on the effortlessly soothing Your Only Doll, a sad song in many respects, but one that firmly underlines Laura Marling as a major new force.
At a time when everyone is predicting great things for female singers such as Duffy and Beth Rowley, Laura Marling is another name that’s every bit as worthy of being added to the breakthrough acts of the year list. Expect to be hearing a lot more from her over the coming year – Alas I Cannot Swim is a stunning achievement.
Download picks: Ghosts, You’re No God, Cross Your Fingers, Crawled Out Of The Sea, My Manic And I, The Captain And The Hourglass, Shine.