Laura Marling has always had the road-weary edge of someone weathered and wise beyond their years. Signing a major label deal with Virgin Records when she was just 16, her first full length Alas, I Cannot Swim was a hugely accomplished record; full of inward reflection and stark imagery. This maturity has been an ever-present feature throughout the songwriter’s sonic evolution – an evolution which has seen her pick up three Mercury nominations across her four highly acclaimed LPs.
The weight of this prolific output began to take its toll on Marling, and at the end of her Once I Was an Eagle tour she traded in London for the warmer climates and anonymity of LA; detoxing from the pressure of needing to write songs to spend her time living and gaining the experiences which would be her next musical journey. Short Movie is this musical journey.
Packed full of the characters she met along the way, the experiences she had – from learning tarot and trying to be a waitress, to getting high in Joshua Tree. Even the sonics of the album reflect the urban sprawl she called home in this period; with an increased sense of urgency and the claustrophobic ambient background sounds of the album’s title track.
“I’m taking more risks now / I’m stepping out of line / I put up my fists now / until I get what’s mine” utters a defiant Marling on the brilliant ‘How Can I’. This confidence is apparent across much of the record’s running time; however, Marling perfectly juxtaposes it, toeing the line between bravado and frailty with ease. It makes for compelling storytelling as she twists and turns her way through opinions on love, and it’s demise. On the opener ‘Warrior’ the love interest isn’t worthy (“you’re not the warrior I’ve been looking for”) though she wrestles with still loving him (“you know that I love him, but you don’t know why”) and trying to decide whether to trade in the comfort of this relationship with the anxiety of knowing the it’s end will lead to her isolation (“Is it still okay that I don’t know how to be alone?”). Her position is never fixed and it’s all the more interesting for it.
Despite her claims of taking risks, and in spite of the fuss that was made in the lead up to this record that Marling had “gone electric”, much of the record sees the Hampshire-native adopting a familiar classical acoustic guitar style and songwriting approach that was showcased on Once I Was an Eagle. We do see glimpses of heavier passages on Short Movie, particularly on one of the album’s finest moments ‘False Hope’ and the leftfield evolution on the idiosyncratic spoken/sung track ‘Strange’. Short Movie is less the sizeable shift from her past works than many expected, but more one more deliberate and gradual step forward for one of contemporary music’s most assured and consistently remarkable artists.