On March 23, English folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling released her fifth album, the partially plugged-in and deeply American-inspired Short Movie. At a sold-out show at Brooklyn’s Warsaw the same night, she displayed the more determined turn her music has taken on the new record.
Irish act Villagers, made up of Conor O’Brien and a harpist, opened with a quiet set of carefully crafted indie-folk songs with delicate melodies and dark lyricism.
Marling in turn took the stage and began with the restless “False Hope” from Short Movie, a song that tells of sleepless nights and crazed neighbors in a New York City apartment. The gritty guitar hook lays the foundation for her assured vocals singing lyrics that nevertheless still show traces of the awkwardness of growing into an identity, asking, “Is it still OK that I don’t know how to be alone?”
She lived in Los Angeles for two years while writing, delving into L.A.’s spiritual scene. The American accent was always there, but is even more pronounced now, especially on the West Coast–tinged “I Feel Your Love,” which comes next. Since she released her first album, Alas, I Cannot Swim, at the tender age of eighteen, we have been watching Marling grow up on record, mapping her journey to adulthood via her music. Short Movie proves that she has spent some time living and accruing a little bit of world-weary wisdom in the intervening years: “I can offer you so little help/Do the best that you’ve been dealt/And do your best to be a good man,” she lectured, singing through gritted teeth at a besotted married man in the sassy “Strange.”
In spite of the heavier tone of her new material, the electric part of the set is quite short. “We’re going to tone it down a bit,” she said, taking up her acoustic guitar for “Walk Alone,” one of Short Movie‘s quieter moments, followed by “David,” whose lyric “A wasted love is a life of regret” she sings with the full-throated emotion of a wizened woman. The earlier music that she sprinkles through the set is rearranged and the phrasing adapted slightly so that new emotion is wrung out. “The Muse” and “Master Hunter” are played faster and fuller. It sounds fresh, and she seemed to be having a lot of fun performing them that way, barely pausing for breath.
Despite bungling the beginning of “What He Wrote” and quickly aborting “Love Be Brave” because she seemed to have forgotten the words, her commanding voice never wavers, whether backed by her full three-piece band or only her own acoustic strumming.
After picking up the electric guitar again and very politely explaining that she never does encores, Marling commanded the audience to “relax and get loose because I’ve got an electric guitar.” Her final two songs were “Gurgjieff’s Daughter,” which is filled with worldly advice — “Don’t be impressed by strong personalities” — and “Strange Movie.”
“Life’s a short fucking movie, man,” she sang. But Marling is still in her early scenes and, if she continues developing and applying life experiences to her craft, it is going to be interesting to see how the plot develops.