Semper Femina may be Laura Marling's most interesting album.More Alarming Records via Kobalt Music Recordings, 2017
7.8 / 10
Laura Marling’s sixth album feels unfathomably late. It’s not because this album arrives after a huge gap. It’s just two year since Short Movie and four years since Once I Was An Eagle. No, it feels late because it deals with a time in Marling’s life before the arrival of Once I Was An Eagle. During this period of Marling’s life, she quit the music industry and moved to Los Angeles. She made yoga instruction her new career path. She felt out of touch with her gender, even shaving her head until she resembled a boy. How is she just now covering this? Marling must possess serious restraint to wait until 2017 before fueling Semper Femina with this material. And guess what! Semper Femina may be her most interesting album.
Obviously, we now live in a time where women are in the spotlight more than ever. As corny as it sounds, “girl power” is at an all time high. Is it because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the recent U.S. presidential election? Is it because Beyoncé’s Lemonade empowered women with its refusal to stay quiet in the shadows? I’m not a woman, so I don’t have the answers. Laura Marling feels the wave of “girl power” sweeping the world though. Her album’s title, Semper Femina, translates to “always a woman.” So even during that period where Marling felt her least feminine, she was still a woman, and she even felt attracted to other women.
One of those women is the titular character of the song, “Nouel”, who she met in Los Angeles and now romanticizes as a goddess. She sings, “I do well/ To serve Nouel/ Whatever service I may be.” Nouel may not be the only woman with Marling’s attention on Semper Femina. Marling comes off as soulful and a little catty on “Wild Fire” as she sings about a female writer1. This writer knows Marling well enough to write about her, but Marling doesn’t like what she writes. “You always say you love me most/ When I don’t know I’m being seen/ Maybe someday when God takes me away/ I’ll understand what the fuck that means,” she sings with spite.
“Next Time” is open to interpretation. Marling finds it easy to ignore the cries of another woman because it’s an action almost ingrained by society. However, why is this woman crying out? Did Marling end their relationship or is it something more serious like the murder of Kitty Genovese in the sixties. No one came to her rescue as she screamed while being murdered. While tragedy is easy to discern from this song, nothing on Semper Femina is ever explicitly dark. However, album opener “Soothing” comes closest with its minimal percussion, cool-as-a-cucumber bass chords, and orchestral strings. Something about it is creepy.
Semper Femina, as a whole, is somewhat sparse in its instrumentation. Obviously Marling is a folk singer/songwriter, so the acoustic guitar is a given. But really, it feels absent much of the time. This is a quiet album that feels perfect for the background noise of any coffee shop. However, the moments with instrumental bursts are more exhilarating because of the subdued arrangements. Expect your neck to tingle during the dramatic conclusion of “Next Time”. But also expect your heart to swell with affection for this album.