At a mere 25 years of age, Laura Marling already has a solid four albums under her belt. Now, as she unveils her fifth work Short Movie, it’s clear that she is still figuring it all out both musically and otherwise. At times Short Movie feels like an angry confession, yet this is also a slightly different direction than before for the London dwelling songwriter, adding electric elements and a thicker, heavier sound to her typical acoustic arrangements. The electric guitar separates the album from its predecessor (2013’s Once I Was An Eagle) by invoking a sense of anger and unease. The result is a restless composition that is a bit like Marling’s attempt at a ‘coming of age’ album.
Littered with some of Marling’s typically intricate acoustic compositions like ‘Feel Your Love’, the record also strays into heavier, contemporary rock arrangements like that in ‘False Hope’. Her lyrics tend to tell the same tale of confusion, asking in the latter song “Is it still okay that I don’t know how to be, at all?” Thus, there’s an overall sense of restlessness within Marling’s lyrical spectrum. In ‘False Hope,’ this is matched every step of the way by its inconsistent switching of pace and bass-heavy sound. Marling even delves into the spoken-word territory with ‘Strange’, which attempts to give its listeners both perspectives of what seems to be an adulterous relationship. The song demonstrates her finger-plucking abilities with its jolty guitar, but its confessional tone almost feels difficult to relate to. The song plays out like a bizarre tangent that Marling has found herself on in the midst of her quest to self-realisation. But then, perhaps, some of us have been there too.
The album’s standout track is also its title track. ‘Short Movie’ is perhaps the only song of 13 that manages to successfully tread the line between Marling’s traditional sound and her perceived new direction. The electric guitar churns out a sense of anger while the violin strokes summon a more melancholic feeling than the album’s other songs. Lyrically the song is at times biting as Marling sings “it’s a short fucking movie, man,” and at other times pensive; “they know that I loved you but they’ll never know why.” It is perhaps the most deeply emotive song on an album that is cluttered with loosely gathered thoughts. Opening track ‘Warrior’ sets listeners up for the theme of self-discovery and restlessness. Over it’s hazy guitars and the nostalgic sound of waves crashing, Marling sings “I’m just a horse with no name, somewhere there’s other beasts who think the same.” Her poetic lyrical ability is by no means lacking in this album, but is stunted by the musical change of pace.
Short Movie feels like an utterly honest, raw and at times angry confession of some of Marling’s deepest thoughts – and still, the album as a whole is difficult to digest. Its sense of restlessness and uncertainty could be enough to confuse and turn listeners away, and while it is certainly valid for an artist to grow and change musically, sometimes that change does not always resonate with the listener. Perhaps Marling will find her feet again when she stops clinging to her folk roots and fully embraces whatever it is she’s going to do next.
Short Movie out Friday 20th March through Caroline Australia / Virgin Records