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Laura Marling – My Manic and I [Virgin]

June 18, 2009

Like a very large game of tug of war, the UK music scene over the last couple of years has been pulled back and forth between two very different genres that are both proving to be as strong as the other. At one end: the synth-tastic revival led by artists such as Hot Chip and MGMT.  And at the other: new folk, with acts like Fleet Foxes, Joanna Newsom and Bon Iver holding their own against the invasion of gadget pop.

Taking one for the folkies in 2008 and earning a Mercury Music Prize nomination along the way was Laura Marling’s album, Alas I Cannot Swim. Eloquently conjuring up her own magical world with each track, Marling, white-blonde and fairy-like, wanders through it as the kingdom’s troubadour. And if this was a Disney production, probably followed by an entourage of songbirds and forest-dwellers.

A lot has been made of Laura Marling’s young age [she turned nineteen last February] and her song-writing ability. But perhaps teenage introspection together with a youthful lack of self-consciousness is what makes Alas I Cannot Swim and its gloomy optimism so inspired. Each song is an intimate anecdote that by beautifully leaving stark reality behind invokes a place where boyfriends are ‘lovers’ who don’t send texts but throw pebbles at your window during the night and take their hats off to greet you.

The standout track on the album, My Manic and I, is accompanied by a video as enchanting as the music, where Marling appears as an angst-filled Alice in Wonderland-esque figure amongst an animated paper puppet show. What starts in the manner of a simple ditty grows and echoes as it progresses, perfectly showcasing Marling’s sombre lyrics.  Seemingly a tale of a girl wrapped up in a despondent love affair with a man who seeks glory in his depression. It’s lyrics like He wants to die where nobody can see him but the beauty of his death will carry on, so I don’t believe him’, in response to her lover’s wish to drown in a lake in Geneva that highlight a surprising insight for someone who’s not yet seen her twenties.

Hopefully not just another quick fix for the music industry, Laura Marling’s debut album is a release that could promise us, as an audience the chance to grow older and wiser with a talented songwriter, if the big chiefs in charge allow her to do so too.

[Originally reviewed for Avenue 61]

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