It’s appropriate that British folk musician Laura Marling uses mythological figures to channel her feelings in her music—the young singer-songwriter is practically mythical herself. She dropped out of school and moved to London at 16 to pursue her music career, put out her first album just after she turned 18, and now, at 23, is releasing her fourth.
Once I Was an Eagle proves Marling is miles ahead of her Brit-folk contemporaries, both in the originality and craft of her songwriting and the effortless eloquence of her delivery. She is unparalleled in her vocal phrasing, instilling more meaning in the word “and” than other singers are able to communicate through entire albums. The first four songs, starting with the laid-back “Take the Night Off,” blend seamlessly into one another, a fitting introduction to an album so rich and full of surprises—like the unexpected bossa-nova chorus on “Little Bird,” or the Spanish-inflected guitar on the moody “Little Love Caster.”
Marling favours sparse arrangements, often just her voice and acoustic guitar, but the two most radio-friendly songs are more fleshed-out—drums pound fiercely on “Master Hunter” and a gorgeous organ sings throughout “Where Can I Go?,” a gently rollicking road tune (“All I see is road / No one takes me home”) that hints at Marling’s recent move to L.A. If there’s a confessional aspect to her lyrics, however, you’ll have to wade through some heavy symbolism to access it. Marling is anachronistic in her reluctance to open herself up to public scrutiny—she says what she needs to say in her songs, which paint a picture of a major talent whose voice will be heard for generations.
Playlist picks: “Master Hunter,” “Where Can I Go?,” “When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been)”
Laura Marling plays 99 Sudbury (99 Sudbury St.) on May 25.