Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim

Laura Marling
Alas, I Cannot Swim

Usually, it’s pretty easy to keep a head out for releases. Most of the time, you’re able to stay informed of what’s out and what looks promising. But sometimes, you completely miss something and when you find it, it’s like a punch in the face. This is in the feeling you get for missing a truly magnificent album and how dumb you feel for being left out. And now, five months after its release, I find Laura Marling’s beautiful voice and music on her stunning, startling, staggering album, Alas, I Cannot Swim.

A relatively simple song like “Shine” is painted with spectacular vocals provided by Marling’s powerful and resonating voice. It isn’t loud, it isn’t forceful but its impact is immense. She has the ability to make it sound emotional and entirely engrossing with every word she sings. Her vibrato is impeccable, her enunciation is utterly charming and her memorable words are astounding.

What’s even more amazing is that this is a tiny little 18-year old woman from the UK presenting us with this music. It was recorded when she was a mere 17 years old and all of the music is written by her. Not only is it breathtaking — every last bit of music — but it’s remarkable that such a young talent has blessed us with this music. Marling channels the greatness of Mitchell, Newsom, Harvey and Case into one fantastic package.

The music hints at folk but Marling’s songwriting skills are far too significant for it to be lazily pigeonholed as that. The title track (offered as a hidden track on the album’s last song) is a triumphant and thriving song that features Marling harmonizing within herself and a cast of voices join her to gloriously close out the album. It’s a nice change from the quiet beginning of “Ghosts,” a terrific opening to an album complete with acoustic guitars, thumping drums and striking strings arranged in flawless fashion.

Each and every single song on Alas, I Cannot Swim is a superb slice of life. There is the slow, gradual splendor of “Old Stone” as Marling’s voice quivers and marvelously sings away, the loving spirit of “Tap at My Window” and the plucking guitar and accepting sad lyrics of “Failure” — and that’s just the next three songs!

The true star of the show is Marling’s gifted voice, clear and simple. Her spotless delivery and unwavering, steady wonder is the glue that pieces everything together. She knows when to raise the volume, when to bring it down a notch, when to hit the high note and when to lay back and let the music sing (“Crawled Out of the Sea (Interlude)”). The bitter “My Manic and I” is powerfully complete with Marling’s aggressive and strong singing. As the music swells back and forth, Marling is the ship leader, front and center.

This is the kind of album that will continue to reward for many years to come. The first listen was amazing, the next was a step up and now, each and every play is even more satisfying. It’s like waking up to a delightful day, opening your blinds and soaking in the sun rays. Everything on this little woman’s album is picturesque and mesmerizing and there is no doubt in my mind that Alas, I Cannot Swim will be rightfully remembered at not only the end of this year but for many more to come.