So much of the 21-year-olds third LP, A Creature I Don't Know, comes in styles more nuanced and technically difficult to perform than pure, simple folk, while it simultaneously avoids lazily dipping into other stylistic offshoots for guidance or song structure. Stories are told here in country, British folk, American folk and plenty of other traditional veins. Its a remarkable record, in that its easily accessible and still full of seemingly divine wisdom.
And for being so young, Miss Marlings sure done a lot of growing up since 2007s Mercury Music Prize nominee Alas, I Cannot Swim, when, then at 18 and 19 years old, she sang of the stuff typical of those her age, but with considerably more authority in her matured, husky voice.
Now, after a step in the right direction that was last years wonderful I Speak Because I Can, her songwritings caught up with that rich, homespun voice of hers. Shes moved on from I Speaks themes of growing into womanhood and matured into a female folk storyteller, employing recurring characters (the ancient goddess of wisdom Sophia, who titles the second-to-last song on the record and appears on The Beast) and poetic lyricism (she mentions the bed of my bones on the poignant, scary Rest in the Bed) to examine womanly social roles, love and devotion, and fate.
Salinas and The Beast stack up back-to-back as the albums massive centerpiece. The formers tone and familial nostalgia matches the prose of John Steinbeck who set many of his great novels in the California town. On The Beast, A choppier acoustic guitar riff signals doom and dread, along with rare, discordant electric guitar chords as Marling sings tonight I choose the beast, tonight he lies with me here comes the beast. You should be grateful theres no blood on my hands, she soon follows it with. Yikes.
And for how terrifying Marling can be on such songs, her voice can also express ladylike sweetness on I Was Just a Card; that is, until you realize that shes singing about knowing your deepest secrets. Rest in the Bed is an incredible story, told both with some of her best lyrics and a slew of acoustic instruments, what sounds like an oboe, and a creepy, whispering female chorus. Her range, as a singer and with differing styles, is absolutely stunning.
This is the album Marling was born to record. Lets all hope shes got a few more in her, but also that she doesnt put them to track any time soon. We still need some time to understand A Creature I Dont Know. Matt Carney