Laura Marling is six albums deep into her career and has yet to put out anything less than fantastic. From the light-hearted and fun Alas, I Cannot Swim to 2015’s electric Short Movie, she’s proven herself to be one of the most consistent singer-songwriters around today.
Unsurprisingly, Semper Femina is another great release, and potentially one of Marling’s all-time bests. In many ways it goes back on the evolution seen on her last album, where she embraced the electric guitar pretty heavily, instead going down a quieter route. In fact, it might just be the most low-key album Marling’s ever put out. Take lead single ‘Soothing’, for example: unlike the main singles for her last two albums – ‘Master Hunter’ and ‘False Hope’, both great songs – the track has a quiet, intimate sound to it. Instrumentally, it doesn’t feature much more than a guitar, a quiet drum kit, some jangling bells and a couple of soaring violins on the chorus. And it’s fitting, given that the lyrics Marling delivers feel like they belong to an intimate conversation with a lover: ‘I need soothing / My lips aren’t moving’.
And ‘Soothing’ pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album. The theme here is womanhood (semper femina translates to ‘always woman’) and each track addresses it in a quiet and subtle mode. ‘The Valley’ has an intimate sound, similarly to ‘Soothing’, being a beautiful and delicate track about a woman’s loss. ‘Wild Fire’ sees Marling return to the more American influenced tones of Short Movie, and it succeeds through her dry lyrics, addressing a close female friend: ‘You always say you love me most when I don’t know I’m being seen / Well, maybe someday when God takes me away, I’ll understand what the fuck that means’. ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ and ‘Always This Way’ are similarly strong, making for a pair of melancholy songs about lost friendship.
‘Wild Once’ is perhaps Semper Femina’s only weak link. It’s not a bad song per-say, but is the only one on the album that feels like its filling time. Luckily it’s followed up by a fantastic closing trilogy of tracks.
‘Next Time’ is another introspective/melancholy song – Marling does seem to beat herself up a little bit on this album – and features some lovely guitar work as well as some lovely violin work. Marling’s vocals, as she tries to prove that she can change, are incredibly gorgeous. Basically just an incredibly pretty and moving song. ‘Nouel’ is similarly wonderful – being possibly the most personal song on an album full of personal songs. The closer, ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’ features Marling finally busting out her electric guitar again and to great effect. The majority of the song roars along and Laura’s lyrical delivery is once again fantastic: ‘Nothing, no, not nothing, no not nearly’. But fittingly to the album, the song closes with a gentle and impressive acoustic guitar solo.
Semper Femina reinforces Marling’s identity as an incredibly talented and an incredibly consistent musician. While I was hoping for Marling to follow the direction that Short Movie hinted at, I’m glad that she took this route with the album instead. It’s one of her bests and easily my favourite album of the year so far.
Essential Songs: ‘Soothing’, ‘Next Time’, ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’.