The opening track on Laura Marling’s sixth studio record is so evocative you can’t blame yourself for having a visceral reaction. Titled Soothing, it’s super carnal, with a sauntering beat and small guitar licks which creep down chromatically in teasing scutters. Marling’s voice is vulnerable and commanding at once. The clip features two women in PVC outfits performing some sort of sensual ritual, watched by an austere group of biddies.
There’s something very The Handmaid’s Tale about it, indicating the hidden and taboo, and Marling says as much – but that’s all. “It’s a collection of different images from a dream,” she says. “Everything in there is from a dream and has some symbolic reference to it.”
Marling is taciturn with her explanations about the impetus behind most of Semper Femina’s tracks; while we already know that a phrase from the epic poem by Virgil, Aeneid, is responsible for the record’s title, Marling expands on another work of literature which inspired stand-out cut Nouel. The track's lyrics include lines from Virgil's poem, an allusion to Aesop's fable about the thorn in the lion's paw, and traditional poetic devices. “A lot of the images in that particular song [are] from When Women Were Birds, which is a book by a writer called Terry Tempest Williams," Marling explains. "It’s a beautiful book about her mother dying, and what sort of things she remembered about her mother as she was dying, and then whem she died. It’s just a beautiful book about the lineage of women in her family, basically."
Lyricism aside there are also some very intriguing sonic details on the album; while Marling credits her drummer, engineer and producer with many of the designs, she admits their approaches encouraged her own ideas. “Blake [Mills, producer] will take a snare hit and put … the microphone behind the piano so that it catches the strings of the piano, and then put that through reverb,” she explains of the ethereal effects on Next Time. “It’s all crazy f-cking stuff. They deal with that kind of musical experimentation, which is really, really good because it pushes me to do more innovative stuff.”
It’s still very important to her, however, to be able to recreate these things live. “The consistency through all of my records has been recording all together in a room," she says. "And I think that’s important – it’s important to me. I think it makes music sound alive, and I can hear when it’s not recorded like that, and it just doesn’t sound living to me. I want to be able to accurately do what we did in the studio on stage, which can be a bit limiting. For instance, we couldn’t afford to take a string quartet on tour, which would’ve been amazing for this album, ‘cause the strings are so amazing. But it’s not possible. So we’re doing the arrangement so that my backing singers sing the string arrangement.” That promises to be a spectacular experience; no Australian dates have been announced yet, but we can believe in the dream.
Semper Femina is out March 10 via Inertia.