you can't come in, you don't live here anymore
The Only Thing I’ve Learnt in a Year – Laura Marling’s Semper Femina
Of course there’s things upon the Earth
That we must really try, to defend
A lonely beast ... a kind heart
Something weak and on trend
I'd do it all for her for free
I need nothing back for me
— "Wild Fire," from Semper Femina
I’m so thankful Laura Marling has popped back up on my music radar this week. Years ago, I worked in a library, and checked out her fourth and fifth studio albums, Once I Was an Eagle and Short Movie, respectively. Her songwriting and performance were inflected with indie sensitivity and a maturity that belied her youth. Now, at 27, her sixth album shows a woman wedding that maturity to the full breadth and depth of her experience, vocally and musically. She is a witch at the height of her powers.
The album, whose title means “Always a Woman,” begins with a jazzy, bass-dominant song called “Soothing.” She sings the verses at the top of her head-voice, crackling and crystalline and clear. The playfulness of her sliding easily into her fuller chest-voice as she sings the coda “You can’t come in / You don’t live here / Anymore” signals to me that her voice has grown into a powerful tool that keeps excellent pace with her writing.
Nowhere in the album is this voice of hers more on display than in “Don’t Pass Me By.” The song is built on a descending guitar scale that recalls “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but also includes flourishes on guitar and sleigh bell that carry shades of classic Motown, and violins that make this song a contender for the title of Best Bond Movie Theme That Will Never Be a Bond Movie Theme. Oh, and as a love song, it holds its own with other juggernauts in her genre.
Folk-adjacent purists might flinch at the album’s variety of styles. Marling moves from acoustic to electric; from her American-affected indie cadence to at least two different English accents; from intimate, small-scale songs to songs with lush, complicated arrangements. The album is intentionally restless, and it feels like Marling and producer Blake Mills are eager to show her flexibility.
I direct short movies in my head when I listen to singer-songwriter albums like Semper Femina. Songs that are evocative and emotionally rich make the best short movies. Song for song, this album deserves to be filmed. But first, it deserves to be listened to. And if the right television episode or commercial or film snags up one of these songs for licensing, Adele might have to start looking over her shoulder.
Let Me Go On – Corey Lewis’s Sun Bakery #1
According to his author’s note at the end of the inaugural issue, Corey Lewis started the Sun Bakery anthology series to “bring a Shonen Jump type flavor to western comics.” For the uninitiated, Shonen Jump is the Japanese anthology comic series that popularized manga like Naruto, Death Note, and Dragon Ball.
In style and substance, you can see the influence of manga throughout the first three stories in the anthology. In “Arem,” a Metroid-esque space explorer and documentarian travels to distant planets to capture increasingly rare shots for her Nextigram account. In “Dream Skills,” two women in a neo-Tokyo discuss the finer points of high-tech swordsmanship in a culture where aura circles have rendered firearms obsolete. And in the most arresting story, “Bat Rider,” a meditative skateboarder appears to be haunted by his ex-girlfriend while trying to skate her out of his mind. My attention span often craves anthology series, and Sun Bakery scratches the itch perfectly.
These stories are refreshing and highly evocative, often reducing the images down to graffiti-like iconography. I see pieces of Paul Pope, Nintendo video game cartridge art, David Aja, and decades of Japanese manga all being lovingly cannibalized to produce something fresh and uniquely Corey Lewis. Reading Sun Bakery, it was great to be reminded how much work it takes to make things look simple.
So this is it. This is how cultural appropriation makes the world a better place. I get it now. I love Big Brother.