Release Date: Mar 10, 2017
Record label: More Alarming Records
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock
Six years ago, aged 21, Laura Marling had the smarty-pants Latin title of this album tattooed on her leg. By itself, "semper femina" means "always woman", yet in its original context (ancient Roman poet Virgil’s Aeneid) it's part of a warning that translates as "woman is always fickle and changeable". Marling found the line funny - its author Virgil was, of course, a man - and in album six she subverts his perspective with a level of nuance that would probably have blown his mind.
Neither the pacing of Once I Was An Eagle swallowing Laura Marling whole, nor the forcefulness of Short Movie are present on her latest album Semper Femina. Marling has dovetailed her arrangements with her lyrics, leaving these two elements alone on the dance floor for a well-rehearsed recital. If the strings rise in dynamism, as do the lengths of the vocal phrasing.
'Semper Femina' shares its title with a tattoo on Laura Marling's leg - translated as 'always a woman' it's a suitably permanent statement, at once bold and allusive. The album itself was largely written on tour, a blur of endless travelling, hotel rooms, and soundchecks to cavernous theatres. Perhaps that's why so much of 'Semper Femina' finds the songwriter burrowing inwards, an analysis of femininity and womanhood with a profoundly personal edge.
Note: This piece is the music Essential in Paste Quarterly #1, which you can purchase here, along with its accompanying vinyl Paste sampler. In December of 2016, Laura Marling made her first foray into the theater world, writing the score for Robert Icke's new production of Mary Stuart, Friedrich Schiller's early 19th century play about the fractious and politically charged relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. A few days before the show's London premiere, Marling spoke with Newsweek and reflected on the "innocent creativity" that had marked her career to that point.
Listening to Laura Marling's intimate new release Semper Femina is like falling into a dream. Not the surrealist kind with weird imagery, but the half-awake type where one is aware of the day-dreaming and doesn't want to break the spell. Marling discusses the meaning of life, the significance of beauty, the value of friendship, and the importance of love.
Laura Marling's Semper Femina— a Latin phrase taken from Virgil's Aeneid which roughly means "always a woman"— is a superb showing of contemporary folk music. Like in her previous five albums, Marling borrows from the genre's traditions, weaving her prose with a picked or a brushed acoustic guitar. But here, under the guidance of Blake Mills, additional instrumentation generously unfurls alongside Marling to enliven and embrace her words.
"T wenty-five years/ Nothing to show for it," sings Laura Marling on Always This Way, continuing the theme of the quarter-life crisis begun on 2015's fine Short Movie. Marling's sixth album chafes against the sexist assumptions of Virgil (women are always fickle, goes the full quote of the title) but she gets the tattoo anyway; obviously, Marling also reserves the right to change her mind. There's a new slinkiness to some of these songs, not least lead track Soothing and its latex-themed video.
Music and the night-time go together like a big and little spoon. Creative inspiration seeps out of dreams through dozy membranes, masterpieces are born from scribbled-on napkins, and ideas arrive during sleepless nights. Paul McCartney (spare a thought for his long-suffering flatmates) had a habit of sleep-playing his piano, and writing mega-hits in a dozy daze.
"They put my hands in water / Told me I'm a god," Laura Marling sings at the beginning of "Wild Once," a standout track on her new album Semper Femina, before finishing the verse: "I might be someone's daughter / I might be somewhat odd. " Fans have come to expect such fable-like fare in Marling's magically timeless music, but those particular lyrics could almost be an allegory for the critical acclaim the British songstress has received over the years, as those reviewers all but worship her work. The response to Semper Femina will likely be the same: This is yet another divine release from folk-pop's reigning empress, full of not only catchy melodies, poignant lyrics and enchanting singing, but also boundary-pushing flourishes that make the album stand apart easily from the work of her peers.
Semper Femina, a Latin phrase borrowed from Virgil translating roughly to "always a woman," was tattooed on Laura Marling's body long before it became the title of her sixth album. Like her adopted motto, this striking set gives the impression of a concept that was left to simmer a while before revealing itself in song. Initially intended as an exercise in writing about women from a male's perspective, Marling soon found that the feelings she was expressing were, in reality, her own, and Semper Femina became the work of a woman writing intimately about women.
Given that Laura Marling had the title of her new album permanently inked on her thigh, you'd imagine it has a special significance for her. Semper Femina is latin for 'always a woman,' but it also has its roots in Virgil's Aeneid: 'varium et mutabile semper femina', which translates as 'woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing'. In her own words, she has described the record as being about her own understanding of femininity.
Laura Marling's sixth album is not a record much interested in wearing its intelligence lightly. A concept album about femininity and female relationships (or "an exploration of womanhood", as one magazine put it, making it sound like something that worthy Channel 4 would have broadcast in the early 80s), it starts quoting Virgil at you before a note is struck: the Latin title is a bowdlerised line from the Aeneid, which edits a dire warning from the god Mercury that: "Woman is always fickle and changeable" into the more positive slogan: "Always a woman". Discussing the album's inspirations in interviews, Marling has eschewed the venerable folky names that invariably get attached to her own in favour of talking about the author, surrealist painter and one-time lover of Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington.
Laura Marling refuses to stop evolving. Over the past half-decade, the English folk standard-bearer has managed to subtly tweak her approach on a series of excellent albums, from the intimate intensity of the adventurous song suite that begins her 2013 album Once I Was An Eagle, to 2015's Short Movie, which found Marling plugging in and taking feedback-laden nods from Lou Reed. On her stunning sixth album, Marling once again embraces reinvention, this time via her collaboration with producer du-jour Blake Mills.
Prominent in the portraits of her is the title of the album, tattooed about halfway up her left thigh. It isn't just for show; she had it done back when she was 21, and as anybody who's followed her career will know, she was long since an old hand by then. Crossword-addicted Marling had been reading Virgil on the basis that it was apparently going to help her fill in the across-and-down blanks, and she came across the line "varium et mutabile semper femina".
Even now, six albums into a compelling career, much gets made of Laura Marling's age. But at 26, she's progressed so far beyond her British folk influences to fully stand alone with her own style, her own vision - yet she's often talked about as if trapped in perpetual adolescence, her precocity the main headline. At the same point in their lives, Bob Dylan had moved beyond "that thin, that wild mercury sound" to John Wesley Harding, Joni Mitchell was making further strides with Ladies Of The Canyon and Neil Young swinging from After The Gold Rush to Harvest: all albums rightly hailed as classics, regardless of their creators' age.
Laura Marling has used conversations surrounding her sixth album, Semper Femina, to disavow music of "innocent creativity"--the kind that's "not pointed, not political," she says. It's an intuitive concept that sounds relatively novel coming from this folk songwriter. In the late 2000s, Marling emerged from London's Communion scene, a coterie of authenticity fetishists who wore wounded hearts on tweed-jacket sleeves.
"A thousand artists' muse/But you'll be anything you choose" observes Laura Marling on the title track of Semper Femina, which ditches male pronouns to focus on women's relationships with one another. It's a timely set, especially for a Brit who makes the U.S. a part-time home. You can hear the double-life: Nick Drake ghosts "The Valley," while Joni Mitchell remains a touchstone ("Nouel").
For most of its existence, folk music has functioned less as a popular performance style than as a means of preserving cultural heritage and clarifying social relations—the voice of the people passed down through communally developed songs played out on easily obtainable instruments. As the circumstances which fostered these insular conditions have changed, and as the transfer of oral traditions have shifted to other, newer musical forms, modern folk has shifted from a source of populist expression to a conduit for artists hoping to cloak their music in an air of classical authenticity. This often results, especially in an era dominated by the sheen of mainstream pop, in reactionary, faux-homespun music that's often hopelessly affected.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN Laura Marling has come a long way since beginning her career at the tender age of 17, attaining an impressive pedigree that has elevated her familiarity factor through well deserved notice and accreditation. Her new album, Semper Femina, is her sixth so far, the latest in a string of releases she's output over the course of the past nine years. Happily, Marling has again stepped up to the plate, accepting her status with a degree of gravitas that finds her tackling crucial issues that have quickly moved to the foreground via today's tempestuous world of politics and pontificating.