In this era of songs purchased all on their own, I seem to be encountering of late a lot of artists who are trying to make their albums kind of justify their status as genuine albums via a lot of thematic repetition from song to song, a lot of music bleeding from track to track, repetition of lyrics from song to song, etc. Jon Hopkins’ masterful electronic album Immunity is a great example as is another album that I’m listening to at the moment, M.I.A.’s Matangi. And, because this whole thing would be pointless if this wasn’t the case, this album right here. Marling is a singer-songwriter type; this album is entirely acoustic, I think. It does play with things in some interesting ways; the music has a lot of folk influences in the acoustic guitar work and the lyrical content and tone of some of the songs, like the dark, clearly Robert Johnson influenced Devil’s Resting Place or the more upbeat tragic death song Undine, which is very much a riff on the Carter Family’s style. But there is also, really intriguingly, a lot of eastern influence as well. A lot of the percussion is Middle Eastern in style; a lot of use of the tabla and other percussive influence, as well as some light sitar. This creates a kind of interesting contrast, I think. It’s a moody, melancholy album and a really quiet one too. Marling rarely gets above a tone of voice I’d probably call a murmur. The songwriting is good, obviously very Dylan influenced, though it never gets anywhere near that level of brilliance. A lot of the tracks bleed right into each other; this is particularly stunning with the first four tracks that essentially form one twenty-minute suite; those four tracks have some melodies in common as well as some guitar patterns. This recurs on the album and there’s some lyrical echoes too; it’s not as strong and obvious anywhere else as it is on these first four songs, and there’s a song later that actually quotes heavily from the opening suite as well. All in all, I found it to be an album that was more “interesting” than anything else. But “interesting” is better than a lot of things albums are nowdays, so that’s a good thing. Some of the songs are pretty throw-away, but when the songs work , as on the aforementioned Devil’s Resting place, the propulsive Master Hunter, the keening Pray For Me, the broken lament Once or the striking, angry opener Take the Night Off, they really, really work. The strength of the songs that work and the interesting fusion of the album more than balance the weak tracks. It’s flawed, but still an album worth your time; it unfolds on repeated listens too, so don’t let your first listen, which will probably be kind of frustrating, put you off of it. Recommended. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – strange fusion of styles and a distinct desire to create a cohesive song-suite as opposed to a disconnected album create an intriguing soundscape with some very solid songwriting. 3 ½ stars.