Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim (2008)


Alas, I Cannot Swim

I go through weird music phases. I’ll get into a genre for a couple weeks and try to get as many albums as I can. If you look at my ever-growing and obese iTunes library, arranged auto-biographically a-la High Fidelity, you’ll see blocks of 70’s R&B, Trip-Hop, Euro-Death Metal, Ambient Post-Rock, 90’s Hip Hop, Free Jazz and just about everything in between.

A few days ago, I was wandering about my collection and ran across a chunk of female singer/songwriters. Stuff like: St. Vincent, A Fine Frenzy, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and Patti Smith (if you haven’t heard Pissing in a River, it’s amazing, discover it.)

And with artists like these in mind, I set off to find a new artist to add to the collection. Scouring random blogs, YouTube and Pandora, I heard about Laura Marling.

An 18-year old English prodigy, known for her lyrics, Marling had a nice little buzz growing around her. Yet, her first band was Noah And The Whale, a boring, carbon-copy indie clone, who’s mediocre at best. So I wasn’t expecting much.

But somehow, Alas, I Cannot Swim manages to be an impressive solo debut. Incorporating soft, acoustic instrumentation and quality production (from Noah And The Whale lead singer, Charlie Fink), the album showcases her vocals and sets her apart in a familiar setting.

Musically, she generally limits herself to piano, guitar and the occasional string arrangement. Each track is distinct in style, if not overly developed. You’re No God hints toward to the slightest of country influences. While Night Terror starts with a standard three chord progression, and grows with a hypnotic guitar riff that’s almost drone rock in style. Though simplistic, it’s this minimalist approach that allows her to shine lyrically.

And it is with her lyrics that Marling really makes her mark. She speaks of loss and love, of death and of God. And she does so without any trace of the sophomoric poetry that discredits the entire Emo genre. And she accomplishes this at only 18.

That isn’t to say Alas, I Cannot Swim is without flaws. There are some filler tracks that just seem to fade into the background. The country-esque, You’re No God is dwarfed by the anthemic Night Terror and thoughtful My Manic and I. Musically there is a fine line between minimalist and overly simple. Throughout the album, Marling toes that line. It feels like some of her best work was left off the album. Her EP, My Manic and I, includes two songs–New Romantic and Typical–that are far better than most of what me the cut for Alas, I Cannot Swim.

All things considered, Alas, I Cannot Swim is a solid debut record. I highly recommend checking out the My Manic and I EP, as that is a condensed sample of her best work without the filler. I cannot wait to see what comes of Laura Marling’s career. At only 18, she has the potential to be great, once her musicianship catches up with her already mature songwriting.

Some of my favorite tracks:

Final Grade: C +

Final Grade for My Manic And I EP: B

One Response to “Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim (2008)”

  1. 1 Built For The Sea - Built For The Sea « sexy gypsy.

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