On Semper Femina, British singer-songwriter Laura Marling gives us nine tracks of warm and cozy folk, tinged with baroque touches. Semper Femina plays almost like the soundtrack for a woman’s journey on a wagon trail out west – empowering, comforting, and with hints of nostalgia. While many tracks may feel all too familiar and all too derivative, this album sways forward on the momentum of its stronger moments.
Throughout this album, Marling weighs up both folk minimalism and baroque lushness, maintaining a delicate balancing act for its forty minutes. Opening track Soothing stays in tune with this philosophy – its slow to start, but listeners are immediately drawn into its mysterious guitar interplay and sparse percussion. These concepts of liberating womanhood and finding love that Marling will explore through the rest of the album first come out to play. She rarely skirts around the truth or grants listeners with idle, complex lyrics – instead her remarks are straightforward and honest, especially on tracks like Don’t Pass Me By (which bears a maybe too close resemblance to While My Guitar Gently Weeps) or on the string infused Next Time.
Semper Femina is an album of female empowerment, and little gets in the way of Marling’s message of liberation. Her lyricism is a just as potent and powerful as her ethereal vocal performances – with her minimal instrumentation, they work wonders. On penultimate track Nouel, Marling sings an ode to one woman that encompasses all, name dropping the album title (an empowering recontextualization of a line from Virgil’s Aeneid that is anything but) amidst a mild guitar line that only emphasizes the importance of her words. Marling herself looks at women from the outside in, especially on songs such as Always This Way, where it seems as though Marling is looking at her own femininity from a foreign perspective. Folk music has always has a conscious backbone, but on Semper Femina, Marling introduces a new perspective and fresh ideas to the genre.
While a number of Semper Femina’s tracks seem to drag on in places, notably Always This Way and the closing track Nothing, Not Nearly, it’s the album more lush and baroque influenced pieces that are the most emotional and explorative. In terms of musicality, Marling is not bringing anything radical or completely transformative to the table, but she’s building lively and interesting moments amidst a sea of folk ballads. The Valley, perhaps this project’s strongest song, features swelling string arrangements that beautifully complement her romantic country croons. Wild Once, much like The Valley, quickly evolves from a restrained folk guitar piece into something much more.
On Semper Femina, Laura Marling has released what is one of modern folk’s more introspective and important bodies of work. Despite its musical shortcomings in places, Marling’s exploration of femininity and womanhood is incredibly relevant and insightful.