Laura Marling has lived a whole life already and she’s barely 30. The British folk musician has been releasing albums at breakneck speed since she was 18. Each album has been more mature and refined than the last — she’s built her sound up and broken it back down, crested with 2013’s magnificent Once I Was An Eagle and earned her first Grammy nod with a nomination for her most recent, 2017’s Semper Femina. That pace hasn’t allowed her much time to slow down and reflect, but the release of her new one, Song For Our Daughter, marks the longest time that Marling has gone without releasing a new album of her own — only three years, which is not very long at all.
In that time, she’s managed to do quite a bit. She started a more experimentally-minded project called LUMP with Tunng’s Mike Lindsay, she wrote scores for theater director Robert Icke, and she enrolled in a master’s degree program in psychoanalysis. For someone who already engages in the highly introspective act that is songwriting, that last passion has opened up even more possibilities for Marling. On Song For Our Daughter, she gives herself over to her subconscious, spins songs out of fragmented visions and hopes that they will have some real-life applications.
There’s an effortlessness to the songs on this album. Not that they didn’t take work, but rather that Marling didn’t allow herself to endlessly tinker with what she had created. She demoed the whole album herself; some of the vocal takes are the first ones that she recorded, representing the spontaneity of her own creativity. She used the well-worn psychological thought that sometimes the first thing that comes to mind is what you really feel. The songs on Song For Your Daughter are written out like dreams, imaginary outlets that allow Marling to let go of whatever she is feeling.
The resulting songs are sweeping and tender and unfussy. They have picked-at guitars and loping pianos and string arrangements, but they still feel compact and fleeting. Other musicians played on Song For Our Daughter, and she brought in her frequent collaborators Ethan Johns and Dom Monks to work on it with her, but the intimacy that Marling conjures up on the album is palpable. The first run of songs have a bit more meat on them, taking on a kind of shaggy surety that reminds me of Fiona Apple, who coincidentally also has an album coming out next week. But most of it sounds like she’s sitting just a few feet away from you in a room, playing her guitar and seeing where her mind will wander next. It sounds like a giant exhalation.
Marling’s songs have always been intimate like this, but there’s something so unhurried and unadorned about Song For Our Daughter, a low-stakes beauty that can only come from someone like Marling, whose voice is so assured and arresting. Maybe some of this has to do with the way she’s releasing it. Marling announced this past weekend that she was pushing the album’s release date up. It was supposed to come out in August, but with the current global crisis changing the fabric of our lives, she felt it was pertinent to get it out as soon as possible. The self-imposed isolation we’re all in ends up being a welcoming atmosphere to listen to this album.
Everyone talks about how isolating quarantine can be, and it certainly is, but it also makes us focus on the people we are lucky enough to be quarantined with (if we are that lucky). Our worlds have gotten significantly smaller. The current state of things, oddly enough, mirrors some recent changes to Marling’s own life that happened even before the pandemic. Since her last album, she has moved closer to her family — she now lives a block away from one sister and shares her home with another sister. She is in a committed long-term relationship. This is the first album that she didn’t write on the road, that she had the space to create separate from the constant cycle of touring. None of that has anything to do with our current situation, but I can imagine that a lot of post-quarantine albums might take this shape: a general accounting of what we already have, a stark reflection on what is missing.
That sort of stasis and stability allows the freedom to imagine possible futures for yourself. The conceit of Song For Our Daughter is that these songs are written for Marling’s nonexistent daughter, the daughter she hopes to have one day, the daughter she’s scared to bring into this world because of all the terrible things that happen in it. “Lately I’ve been thinking about our daughter growing old,” she sings on the title track. “All of the bullshit that she might be told.” On “Strange Girl,” she addresses this daughter as someone much like herself, someone who has given up financial independence for her art, who might have similar self-destructive tendencies. “Woke up in a country who refused to hold your hand/ Kept falling for narcissists who insist you call them man,” she warns, preparing her for the same mistakes she has made. “Work late for a job you hate which never fit the plan/ Stay low, keep brave.”
These warnings have echoes in Marling’s own life. A lot of the songs feel like reminders from Marling to herself: to keep a positive attitude, to embrace the good amidst all of the bad. “I don’t know what else to say, I think I’m doing fine,” she sings on one. “Trying to figure out what I will do with all my time.” On another: “We landed on rocks and that’s partly to blame/ We wandered the landscape in this unbearable pain/ Oh my, your fortune can change.” Marling’s songs never provide concrete answers — they operate in questions, trying to find contentment in the not-knowing. Many of them portray characters and situations that are indefinable by nature. On closing track “For You,” the nearest Marling gets to a definitive happy place, she exudes joy in a lullaby-like rhyme: “I thank a God I’ve never met, never loved, never wanted/ For you/ I write it so I don’t forget it.” But even that love is only a beginning: “No childish expectation/ Love is not the answer/ But the line that marks the start.”
In her statement announcing the imminent release of Song For Our Daughter, Marling wrote: “I’d like for you, perhaps, to hear a strange story about the fragmentary, nonsensical experience of trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society. When I listen back to it now, it makes more sense to me then when I wrote it. My writing, as ever, was months, years, in front of my conscious mind.” Isn’t that how it always is? We’re constantly playing catch-up, learning lessons that we already know. Song For Our Daughter is another chapter in the songbook that Marling has been creating over the last decade, and it’s comforting to hear someone figure things out in such subtle shifts. She comes up with no grand revelations, but instead marks a steady course through a life that’s still somehow worth living.
Song For Our Daughter is out 4/10 via Partisan/Chrysalis. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• The Strokes’ first new album in seven years, The New Abnormal. Our Premature Evaluation review is here.
• Hamilton Leithauser’s latest post-Walkmen solo album, The Loves Of Your Life.
• Long Neck’s rousing and melodic World’s Strongest Dog.
• Trace Mountains’ stuttering and insular Lost In The Country.
• Midwife’s mournful, textural Forever.
• Circuit des Yeux’s second album as her law-breaking alter ego Jackie Lynn, Jacqueline.
• Drain’s fun and fast debut album California Cursed.
• The Dream Syndicate’s psychedelic and wandering The Universe Inside.
• Pink Siifu’s murky NEGRO.
• Rotting Out’s fiery Ronin.
• Kool Keith teams up with powerviolence band Thetan for Space Goretex.
• Wild Pink leader John Ross’ latest instrumental album as Eerie Gaits, Holopaw.
• Why Bonnie’s Voice Box EP.
• Stay Inside’s Viewing EP.