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Laura Marling – Semper Femina 

April 30, 2017

Day 1 – First Listen/Release Day

I can’t remember how or why I stumbled upon Laura Marling. When I first heard her I thought she was the second coming of Joni Mitchell.  I am a major fan of Joni and I am afraid we will never hear from her again.  So, I am susceptible to Joni’s  doppelgängers. Marling’s Once I Was An Eagle is one of my favorite albums of the last five years.  

Semper Femina just came out today and I know I should not comment on an album after just three listens. Tonight my Laura and I watched Southside with You a romantic drama about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. So I guess it is a night for first dates.

Laura Marling evokes so many singer songwriters – sometimes in the same song: Dylan, Nick Drake, Carole King, Patti Smith, Chrisi Hynde, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and of course Joni.

This album is not a radical departure from her past couple of albums.  It is still subtle and folky, but it does have a little more adventurous and rich arrangements. Her voice has grown and is slightly different on each cut.

I am listening via Spotify on the big boy stereo. The recording is sonically stunning, but I can feel the constraints of streaming.  I can’t wait to check it out the LP.  A good DAC can only do so much with a 160 kbps bit rate.

I began to wonder if there is a better option on Spotify. Sure enough I can change to 320 Kbps (pretty damn close to CD quality and nothing short of a miracle considering you don’t have to leave your house).  What the hell. I can’t believe I have never adjusted this setting on the laptop that serves the big boy stereo.  This is game changing – it sounds so much better. I feel foolish I have been compromising. The music is now blanketing me in its warmth.

Day 2 (Side A)

I picked up the LP today at the Electric Fetus.  Giving it the first spin.  It sounds lighter, more delicate and more vivid on LP vs. the Spotify stream.

The album opens with “Soothing” which has a nice slinky riff for Marling to float over. Musically it is soothing, but lyrically it is tense. It creates a nice contradiction.

“The Valley” has a Nick Drake feel and a little bit of Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” sound.

“Wild Fire” is kind of soulful in a Carole King sort of way. This is my favorite cut on the album so far.  Her voice gently sways between talk and a full-out belting.

“Don’t Pass Me By” reminds me of a Pretenders’ song on narcotics.

Over a month later (Side B)

“All This Way” has a Norah Jones vibe.  The bowed cello gives the song some nice bottom end.  It also has a mellow Vampire Weekend vibe too.

“Wild Once” brings back the Nick Drake vibe.  Marling uses what I call her British voice.  It is a bit affected, but I like it.  So many British pop singers sound American, it is a treat when they actually sound British. I like how the narrator weaves between reflection and observation.

“Next Time” has a Paul Simon feel.  It is a deceptively simple song. If you listen carefully to the arrangement there is a lot going on.   Great use of strings without getting syrupy.

“Nouel” is pure Joni. This song’s lyric has the album’s title in it. Semper Femina means “loyalty among women” or “always women” in Latin.

“Nothing Not Nearly” is the most rocking cut on the album.  Nice grungy guitar licks.  Marling almost raps the lyrics.  It is a great ending.

Bonus

The LP edition comes with a bonus LP of the album’s songs live at Martyrs in Chicago (a club I have actually been to).  It was recorded on 11/22/15 – almost a year and a half before the release of Semper Femina. I find that delightfully weird.

Finally…

I have been marinating in Semper Femina for a few weeks now. I am not getting bored with it – it is getting better.  I have not been listening to the live disk.  Not because I don’t like it, it just hasn’t  been convenient.

Upon further listening one of the secret ingredients of the album is Rob Moose’s string arrangements.  They are tasteful and not syrupy.

One of the things that struck me early on was the range of Marling’s voice.  On almost every cut it has a slightly different nuance.

The arrangements on the album are lush, but unobtrusive.  They serve Marling’s voice without overwhelming it.  The album has both a retro and familiar feel, yet it still feels completely of the moment.

All the songs are focused on women.  “I started out writing Semper Femina as if a man was writing about a woman,” Marling explained in a press release. “And then I thought it’s not a man, it’s me — I don’t need to pretend it’s a man to justify the intimacy of the way I’m looking and feeling about women. It’s me looking specifically at women and feeling great empathy towards them and by proxy towards myself.”  So many pop songs focus on romantic relationships.  It is pretty cool that Marling is digging into non-romantic love.

This is a mellow album that can be enjoyed in both the background and in the foreground.  If you listen to it in the foreground you will be bathed in it lushness – its rich, but subtle arrangements. Best of all, its the many voices of Laura Marling.

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