Laura Marling explores the ambiguity of relationships on her excellent new Semper Femina | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Laura Marling explores the ambiguity of relationships on her excellent new Semper Femina

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Most mentions of the stunning new album Semper Femina (More Alarming) note that singer-songwriter Laura Marling addresses only women over its nine songs. It’s unclear whether her lyrics are directed toward friends or lovers, but her sharp observations and plainspoken language render this ambiguity irrelevant. The album title comes from a line in Virgil’s Aeneid, “Varium et mutabile semper femina” (“Fickle and changeable always is woman”), and just about every song finds a doubtful narrator in the midst of a relationship at a crossroads. Over a stuttering groove and a pair of bass lines that fall in and out of sync during opener “Soothing,” she rebuffs a caller with whom she has a troubled past—though there’s generosity even in her dismissal (“I banish you with love”). On “Don’t Pass Me By” she appears to be uncertain about ending a relationship, singing, “I can’t get you off my mind / Can you love me if I put up a fight?” During the gorgeous “Wild Fire,” where Marling harmonizes beautifully with herself, she reaches the end of her patience with a woman she has a complicated relationship with, alternating between support and contempt. In recalling a backhanded compliment from the song’s protagonist Marling sneers, “Well maybe some day when god takes me away / I’ll understand what the fuck that means.” The record was produced by guitarist Blake Mills, who toggles between sparse postfolk settings and biting electric arrangements where one element or another serves as a defining detail (e.g., the twined basses on “Soothing” and the stinging slide guitar on “Nothing Not Nearly”). Still, the focal point falls squarely on Marling’s remarkable singing, which has never been stronger or more magnetic.   v

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