Does anyone else remember the days before streaming services? Before playlists? If you wanted to get someone into a certain band, or play them a selection of the artists you’d be watching live at the weekend, you couldn’t just drag every song they’d ever written into a playlist and send it to them over email. Nope. You really had to think about it, to distil that feeling you wanted to give them down into a few tough choices.
Tapes had two sides, both 45 minutes long. You had that long to say what you needed to say and then it was time to move on. We’re bringing that challenge back in our mixtape. 45 minutes to convince someone why they should like a certain band, artist, genre, or era.
Today, I have 45 minutes to tell you why you should love Laura Marling. Here I go:
You know those dickheads who bang on about how they were there at the beginning with an artist – well today, I’m that dickhead. Because I was there when ‘Ghosts’ was released and was immediately blown away. Laura Marling has become one of my top 5 artists of all time over the years, but it all started with this lovely, lilting not-quite-a-love-song. Marking her arrival with a lot of things that would become her trademarks, this song tells a great story, hits every part of her vocal register, and makes you want to hear it again and again. The fact that she wrote this at 16-years-old is a mark of how magical she is.
Now if she’d just get over her aversion and bring this back to her live shows, then we could all be happy.
Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) (3.45)
To make sure each album gets a look in, I’m going to start my mixtape by making my way through them in chronological order. But whatever order I went in, ‘Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)’ would be the highlight. It is the centerpiece of second album I Speak Because I Can but is still my favourite song by her – eleven years and five albums later.
When it was released it was a sign of how much she had grown between album one and two. But for anyone who had been listening closely, it was also a sign that she was going to be with us for a very long time to come.
For those who don’t spend too much time listening to the folky acoustic scene, I can imagine Laura’s music can sound like it doesn’t really make huge strides and changes from album to album. But it does. ‘Sophia’ was the biggest indication of her ambition and her evolution when it popped up towards the end of album three.
Starting with what seemed like a trademark, finger-picked, slowly paced guitar, it soon morphs into one of her most energetic and powerful songs. It was an indication of what would come next. But more than that, it was the moment she really pushed herself onto another plain as the leader of her genre. It’s gorgeous.
For most people, Once I Was An Eagle is Laura Marling’s masterpiece. I can’t argue with that. It took those changes she had made in tracks like ‘Sophia’ and applied them to a whole album, making a piece of music that was so complete that it is hard to separate the tracks out and highlight them on their own. They belong together.
Maybe that’s why only one of the songs from that album makes my mixtape. But an attempt to get people into Laura would not be complete without ‘Once’. It’s her saddest, most delicate, most contemplative song and it shows how confident she had grown by this point in her career. This will be considered an all-time classic in 30 years-time.
Walk Alone (3.19)
With singles like ‘False Hope’ and the title song, it could be suggested that Short Movie was the album when Laura put forward her credentials as a rock artist. Maybe that’s why it took me longer to get into than any other album.
That said, I really did grow to love it. But even on my very first listen, as I took off on a plane on the way to Morocco, ‘Walk Alone’ was the song that shone the brightest for me. On her most energetic album, it is the slowest and quietest song. Maybe that says something about the side of Laura’s music that most gets me in the gut, but I challenge anyone to not get goosebumps during the refrain of ‘I just need a little more time.’ Bloody beautiful.
Another song that definitely felt like a bit of a departure, ‘Soothing’ ushered in a slightly more experimental and daring phase for our favourite folkstress. The strings and the bassline line create a sound we hadn’t really heard on one of her songs before and she has never sounded so sultry.
Hand Hold Hero (5.26)
As much as I loved ‘Soothing’, the album it opened was probably my least favourite of Laura’s career (it’s still brilliant, though). So when she came out with LUMP, a surprise EP with Mike Lindsay, I was excited. Semper Femina maybe felt like an album by someone who was ready to try something different but not quite sure what that was, while LUMP felt like someone going all out to test herself and push her boundaries. And it really, really worked. Electronic elements, samples, and more aggression than anything she’d done before, I think ‘Hand Hold Hero’ is the best example of what worked so well here. But really, I could have picked any of the EP’s six songs.
The End of the Affair (3.24)
We’re firmly back in Laura territory with this one, perhaps the strongest song on her latest LP Song For Our Daughter. In terms of storytelling, she’s never been so good. As the title indicates, this song tells the tale of an infidelity that had to end and manages to pack it so full of emotion that you can’t hold anything against the two people caught up in the mess she’s discussing. It’s heartbreaking and devastating and absolutely fucking stunning. Well done, Laura.
New Romantic (2.52)
Back to the beginning now. And if you’re listening to this mixtape in order you might notice a pretty big difference in terms of lyrical maturity and subject matter, but consider ‘New Romantic’ was written and performed by a 16/17-year-old and tell me your mind isn’t totally blown. This. Song. Is. So. Fucking. Good.
An unfortunate Ryan Adams reference aside, this must be seen as one of the launchpads for the incredible career we have all been lucky enough to witness.
The Beast (5.45)
From what I’ve heard from other fans, ‘The Beast’ is not one of Laura’s most popular songs. That astounds me. There’s something so captivating and involving about the way she snarls through this song, the way the guitars and percussion ramp up as he voice gets deeper and croakier, as she puts even more of her energy into every syllable. This is Laura at her most aggressive and it works.
Rambling Man (3.16)
Pretty sure this, unlike ‘The Beast’, is one we can all agree on. This is Laura mixing all of the things I’ve been praising into one, beautiful, driving song with the best crescendo in her back catalogue. Put simply, a total stunner.
Only The Strong (3.20)
We’re back to last year’s Song For Our Daughter for our penultimate track and this was one that had tears running down my cheeks on the very first listen. It seems so apt. Laura has given us seven and a half albums of pure emotion, music written from the very centre of her being, and yet she is still putting songs this good out and staying at the forefront of her genre. This song melts my head.
Tap At My Window (2.47)
And we’ll end with one more song from her debut, Alas I Cannot Swim. I read an article recently in which Laura said she doesn’t consider this album part of her catalogue anymore and that made me truly sad. For how it introduced me to this amazing artist, it has a very special place in my heart. ‘Tap At My Window’ is probably the song that best bridges the early, younger songs with the majestic masterpieces she produces today. With the strings, the storytelling, and the bursts of percussion, Laura was setting her intentions right from the start. And the fact that she included this in the setlist at her Royal Albert Hall live streams makes me confident that she knows just how important it is in her history.
So, Laura fans, what do you think? Did I nail it? Did I miss anything crucial? And if, somehow, you aren’t too familiar with Laura then please do give the mixtape a go and let me know if I won you over. You won’t regret it.
Words by Fran Slater