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Laura Marling - Semper Femina

  • Published in Albums

Semper Femina clocks in as Laura Marling’s sixth album, and with each release, she stands out further from the pack. Her last record, Short Movie, had Marling living in California and singing like a Californian. She gave interviews about cutting her ties and going on the road looking for adventure - both impressively assured and slightly disturbing. On Short Movie, Marling had not found whatever she was looking for, and her songs were powerful and unsettled. Semper Femina was also recorded in LA but exudes new Joni Mitchell levels of songwriting sophistication, Marling’s English voice set against the vast skies of another continent. It is also a less angry, more confident work, and her best yet.

The album’s title reworks an infamous line from Virgil, “Varium et mutabile semper femina” - “Woman is forever changeable and fickle.” Marling snips its meaning so it becomes “Woman is forever”, a declaration of intent. The nine substantial and complex songs on Semper Femina are narrated by women, whose identities mesh with Marling’s, examining who they are, where they are going, what they will become.

‘Soothing’ is a simmering retort to an unwanted lover, from a narrator who may or may not be alive. A brooding acoustic guitar riff sends out a warning like a threshold hex. ‘The Valley’ is a mellow, troubled ballad slowed down to a heat haze crawl, with strings and softly plucked guitar rolling around a lyric concerning about a woman who is “down there in the valley”. The energetic ‘Wild Fire’ brings out the Joni in Marling most strongly, as her voice drifts across the Atlantic and takes on a soulful edge. She sounds fantastic, the song relaying conversations with another woman, a lover possibly, who is warned: “You can stop playing it all out on me.”

‘Wild Once’ is a finger-picked contemplation, as Marling seeks to recover the lost wildness of childhood: “You are wild, and you must remember” she sings, her measured vocals covering hidden menace. On the contemplative ‘Always This Way’ Marling declares her intention of making her own way, despite: “Twenty-five years and nothing to show for it.” The final song “Nothing, Not Nearly’, featuring a growling electric guitar, could be an epitaph to her time in the States. She declares that the only thing she learned “In a year when I didn’t smile, not really” is that nothing matters more than love; “No, nothing, no, not nothing, not nearly”. It is seriously rousing.

Semper Femina shows Laura Marling continuing to grow in stature as songwriter. She has an ability to weave narrative songs in an out of her own life to create a powerful picture of people in place and time. Building on her formative folk origins has allowed to her to write original songs about what she knows, which seem to have been around forever. There will be another six albums before we know it. 

Semper Femina is available via Amazon and iTunes. 


Festival Coverage: End Of The Road 2015

  • Published in Live

In celebrating its 10th birthday, End Of The Road remains a unique and brilliant fixture of the UK festival calendar. Housed in the exquisite settings of one-time Victorian Pleasure Gardens, EOTR has grown in recent years, but refuses to part with any of its charm. There’s a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, but they are deadly serious about their packed and diverse line up, which showcases huge names and those in the making.

Among the free-roaming peacocks, the festival is also packed with comedy, fantastic art installations, a Forest Disco and perfect little touches. (How does a surprise performance from Laura Marling on a tiny, hidden Piano stage sound?)

In an increasingly busy festival calendar, End Of The Road stands out from the crowd, and you can see it in the enjoyment of the performers. You’ll see many of them wandering around the site before and after their sets, and there’s no wondering why.

On Friday afternoon there were captivating sets from the Race Horses’ Meilyr Jones; moody Canadian outfit Ought; the fantastically raw Torres; upbeat art-pop act Django Django and the wacky King Khan & BBQ Show (complete with gold cape and black leather pants).

But Friday belonged to Tame Impala, who headlined The Woods stage with a commanding and mesmerising set. They flowed through earlier, guitar-led material and the more disco-focused Currents. Opening track ‘Let It Happen’ pinned their colours to the mast for a dazzlingly trippy set, and when the stomping favourite ‘Elephant’ started, the festival really felt underway.

The night was capped off by East India Youth, who performed a spellbinding electro-pop set in the Big Top Tent.

Saturday began with the colourful Human Pyramids, who performed a wonderful, orchestral show. With a stage literally full of musicians, it was the perfect wake up call, complete with uplifting string arrangements, clever melodies and startling drums.

Following this came The Duke Spirit, Slow Club, whose impact was lost slightly on a larger stage, distinctive LA two-piece Girlpool and the abrasively rocky Ex Hex. All this preceded the explosive Fat White Family, who tore the Big Top Tent apart.

As the highlight of the entire weekend, special praise must be reserved for Sufjan Stevens. Making his first UK festival appearance, Stevens played one of the most astounding sets you are ever likely to witness at a festival, during which you could hear a pin drop.

To stun a festival crowd into silence on a Saturday night is no mean feat, but in brisk September conditions the real chill comes from the wonderfully bleak compositions of Carrie And Lowell. ‘The Fourth Of July’s’ refrain “We’re all gonna die” is one you would expect to be a bit too drab for this crowd, but it’s absolutely spectacular. After sharing a hand-written letter he had received from the organisers some 8 years earlier, requesting he played, it was more special for the wait. Then when things got a little too solemn, Stevens would react appropriately, playing feel-good tunes like ‘Chicago’ and ‘Come On! Feel the Illinoise!’ complete with a brass backing band.

Following Saturday’s chill, Sunday was gloriously warm. We are welcomed by indie darlings Hinds, who had clearly brought some Spanish sun. In turn, the inhabitants of the Big Top tent groove to the tunes of Ultimate Painting and Happyness, who bring a dreamy slice of '90s-inspired rock. Later Alvvays brought their sugary indie pop to the sun soaked main stage.

Mac DeMarco offers a 10th birthday cake for the festival, alongside a slick set on the Garden Stage. “I’m going to cuddle up to a peacock and ruffle a few feathers, if you know what I’m saying”, a spaced-out DeMarco announces, in his best bloke-in-a-porno impression. Towards the end of his set, Mac leaps into the crowd, but “straight to the ground as always.” Meanwhile his band-mates, who have personalities and talent as immense as his, chuck their guitars to and fro, amidst impressive solos.

The grandiose sound of The War On Drugs, driven by Dylan and Springsteen’s influences, is chosen to call an end to the festival. Like so many others they show a genuine pleasure to be playing, saying the only other time they’d been asked, they simply couldn’t afford the flights. Now as a major player, they’ve found their place and give an impressive show, showcasing 2014’s astounding Lost In The Dream, for the festival’s final hurrah.

End Of The Road’s 10th birthday celebration was, as expected, a huge success. The intimate but expansive gathering is a family-friendly treat and a musical highlight of the year. The sound on each stage is incredible, and most importantly unlike other festivals, the 4 stages are close enough that you’re only ever be a few minutes’ walk between each (via a bar with short queues), meaning you can really focus on enjoying some great music, in an idyllic setting. Here’s to another 10 years.



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