Laura Marling – Alas I Cannot Swim

If there’s one bad thing that can be said about Laura Marling’s debut album, it’s that its release was poorly timed. Trying to break into the market of British songstresses such as Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, and Adele is not for the faint of heart. Though Marling was barely 18 when this album was released, she does have one up on her competition. She chooses to sit back and sing her deceptively simple acoustic, lyrically driven songs and watch all the other singers eat each other alive.

The opening track and first single, “Ghosts,” eases you in, though the lyrics (“Lover, please do not fall to your knees/It’s not like I believe in everlasting love”) seem odd against the upbeat acoustic guitar. The next few songs show Marling’s naivety and depth. In “Failure” she pleads for people to keep their chins up while making the piercing statement “If He made me in His image, then He’s a failure too.

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” In fact, religion is a recurring theme on this album that often catches you off guard and yet does not sound out of place.

Taking a sharp left with the next two songs, Marling sings a little bit of sunny folk-pop. “Cross Your Fingers” and “Crawled Out of the Sea” are two wonderfully contradictory tracks – one about doom and the other about hope – that share a music video.

In “Night Terror,” the only song on the album that can put you in a funk with its chilling lyrics and arrangements, Marling pleads with a force bigger than herself: “I … hold him tightly/And scream ‘If you want him then you’re gonna have to fight me.’”

Marling was inspired by Bonnie Prince Billy, all the while sounding like the offspring of Joni Mitchell and Sia Fuller (a medical miracle, to be sure). This album is an odd mix: a combination of wise and intense lyrics, her delicate, husky voice, and the maturity she brings to her songs that is both comforting and devastating. Marling is an artist whom you can discover over and over, never growing bored and always coming back for more.

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