laura marling

#11: Laura Marling - "Alas, I Cannot Swim" (2008)

After Emily’s foray into classic folk music last week, this is the nu-est of the nu. It’s even got Marcus Mumford in it – and look, he’s playing the accordion! I didn’t adore Alas, I Cannot Swim, but I liked it, and my goodness but it’s a nostalgia trip.

There’s a part of me that can’t quite believe I’ve never heard Laura Marling before, partly because her voice sounds so familiar – the whole sound of this album is so heavily reminiscent to me of about 2008. It captures that moment, which for me was the very tail end of my A Levels and my first term at university. This sort of sound was everywhere then, wasn’t it? I have to admit, I’m having a hard time separating Marling out from a small army of other musicians having their heyday at about the same time – in terms of voice, musical atmosphere, and also subject matter, which is largely introspective and a certain flavour of low-key storytelling. I must’ve heard some of this the first time round. I must’ve.

There are a few standouts: “My Manic and I” is a complicated jewel, and the more I listen to them the more I have a soft spot for “Failure” and “The Captain and Hourglass”. It turns out that Marling is only a few months older than me, which means she was eighteen when this came out. I can believe that it’s her first album, but her voice sounds far more mature than that, or at least it does to my untrained ears, and the idea that it’s a teenager doing the writing of these songs is pretty impressive.

I’ve mentioned before that listening to a full album in one go is a thing I’ve only really started to do properly this year, and having done so with Alas, I Cannot Swim feels like a good decision – there’s a central interlude, after which it picks up and becomes to my mind far more interesting lyrically, which makes me wonder what order the album was written in. Where did “Night Terror” (track 9) fit in Marling’s writing in relation to “Ghosts” (track 1)? Was “Failure” (track 3) written later and then moved up the list a bit? It’s entirely possible that I’m projecting hard here, but equally, maybe not.

The recommender of this album lent me a copy of it, and also Marling’s second album, I Speak Because I Can. Given how very young she was this first time around, I’m tempted to take the time to follow her trajectory over the last decade. Alas, I Cannot Swim is very much of its time, but it also feels like a pretty solid starting point, and I’d like to know where she’s gone from there.