The Best Albums of 2017 (So Far):
Laura Marling – Semper Femina
IN the same way I have conducted a round-up of the…
best songs of the year so far – in my opinion – I will do a little piece on five albums that, in this journalist’s humble view, have defined 2017. We are just over the half-way mark but, already there has been a bounty of great material. The first album, and one that could well claim the top-spot when I do my end-of-year lis, is Laura Marling’s Semper Femina. Two years after Short Movie (an album where Marling co-produced and felt like, in a way, she didn’t exert enough control) it was no surprise to hear of a new arrival from the Berkshire musician. I have followed Marling’s career since the beginning and KNEW Semper Femina would be a great album – I did not expect it to still be bouncing around my brain four months after its release. The title (‘Semper Femina’) is culled from the poet Virgil and is a truncated sentiment from a longer line of Latin – roughly translates to ‘woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing’. Given Marling’s proactive stance tackling sexual inequality in music society; that title might seem like a tongue-in-cheek approach.
The record is confident and, in places, angry offering from an artist who, nine years since her debut (Alas, I Cannot Swim) has yet to put a foot wrong. In fact, such is the consistency and variation on Semper Femina – it suggests there will be another album along very soon. Initially; the album was intended to be a man’s perspective as perceived by a woman. That would seem apt given the title and translation but Marling realised the narrative had to be hers. Semper Femina HAD to be from a woman’s viewpoint and a record that addressed a woman’s world – as written by a woman. It is no surprise Semper Femina has a transitory and itinerant nature. Conceived in Marling’s (at-then) home in Los Angeles; the young musician soon moved back to London – she moved to L.A. in a period of confusion and self-discovery. One can hear elements of Californian life in the music but, on a whole, it is more universal, personal and poetic.
Songs like The Valley demonstrates that reliably intelligent and poetic pen. At a time when artists like Lucy Rose are progressing and blossoming – one can argue they take a lot from Marling. Certainly, those deep and nuanced lyrics; the stunning pure (yet elastic) voice and immense candour can be applied to both Marling and Lucy Rose. There is, like Short Movie and other Marling work, a nod to Joni Mitchell. Maybe it was the Californian air but one can hear elements of Mitchell – her Ladies of the Canyon and Blue albums – on delicate and expertly-picked tracks like Noll. Wild Fire and Nothing, Not Nearly burn with passion and promise but are some of the slower, more contemplative numbers. Lead-off single, Soothing, contains fantastic Jazz bass and slinks and slithers (Blake Mills co-writes). It was one of my favourite singles of last year – the single was released in late in 2016 – and shows new direction and sounds in Marling’s arsenal. Despite the fact Semper Femina is nine-tracks-long; one hears Marling muse on relationships, short-lived ambitions and reflections on human life. One senses a woman experience turbulence and uncertainty: often refracted away from the heart to encapsulate a wider, less concise malaise.
Less electric, direct and simplistic than some of her earlier work; here, there are Jazz expressions and new textures: vibrator guitar lines and shimmering, evocative strings – one notes whispers of Nick Drake in some moments. “I do well to serve Nouel, whatever service I may be…Fickle and changeable, weighing down on me” might be a twenty-seven-year-old burdened by responsibility and wisdom but it has an oblique manner (one can interpret it in various ways). Semper Femina, away from gender concerns and female purpose, looks at the younger Marling compared to her current incumbent. That sense of wanting to return to less-responsible ways: more spirited and less indebted to maturity and consequence. In the end – chronologically and realisation-wise – it that need for a certain transformation that leads to something structured and mature. The album ends with Marling, one suspects, plotting a future and, whilst older than ever and missing elements of her past – a woman keen to press forward and explore. Semper Femina is a fantastic record and one that overspills with incredible songwriting and near-career-defining songs. It is not a truly great year in music unless Laura Marling releases an album: Semper Femina could well top many critics’ ‘Best of 2017’ lists in five months. In my opinion, it would…
BE thoroughly deserved.
More Alarming Records
Wild Fire, Don't Pass Me By; Nouel, Nothing, Not Nearly