Folk Rock LAURA MARLING Alas, I Cannot Swim (EMI) Out Feb 11

21 February 2008

Liz Dodd

It’s unfair, but I harbour an intrinsic mistrust of singer-songwriters. I think it’s something of a Pavlov’s dog situation: every time you throw on an easy listening-folk album these days you’re assaulted either with the irritatingly sentimentalised dronage of James Blunt/Paulo Nutini/etc. or the faux-blues strains of Adele/The Winehouse.

Years of abuse at the hands of the music industry meant, then, that I shifted Laura Marling’s new album around my desk for about a week before bracing myself for the potted-lounge-jazz assault that, ultimately, never came. Instead Regina Spektor-esque fragility tumbles out of album opener, Ghost, sparse acoustic guitar racing away from a drumkit that sounds like it’s in a different postcode to the microphone.

Alas, I Cannot Swim is a breath of fresh air. Marling resists the current avant-garde for expressing emotion through the jagged erosion of vocal-instrumentals. There is emotion in this album, but it’s living in the gaps, in the pauses between child-like clipped sentences and down-tuned strings.

Marling (18) doesn’t let her age get in the way of punchy truisms. “Well I sold my soul to Jesus and since then I’ve had no fun,” from The Captain And The Hourglass is straight Delta blues without assumed Americana. Night Terror is the darkest few minutes on the album and indicative of where Marling can go from here – confident leaps from the lowest to the highest notes in her range, insistent, nautical drums and Patrick Wolf-esque ghost strings.

Marling may not be able to swim, but she has released a debut powerful enough to blast your Duffys and your Adeles out of the water, setting a new standard for British singer-songwriters. About time.