Laura Marling’s Quietly Majestic ‘Once I Was An Eagle’

Last summer was the season of big, folk-inspired choruses, tailor-made for the late-summer kegger in the woods, the fading bonfire, the beer ad, the college a cappella group and the movie trailer. The onslaught of songs like The Lumineers’ "Ho Hey," Mumford and Sons’ "I Will Wait" and Imagine Dragons’ "It’s Time" kept the mandolins and acoustic pickings and cloying earnestness in abundance, and given the overplay of this particular clutch of songs, it’s easy to see how people could get burned out on contemporary folk and campfire folk-inspired pop.

British singer-songwriter Laura Marling sometimes gets lumped into this group, maybe because there’s some fan overlap, maybe because she’s both dated and collaborated with members of Mumford & Sons. But if there was an album that could make you fall in love with millennial interpretations of folk music, Marling’s fouth album, Once I Was An Eagle, should be it. Marling is 23 but sounds ageless, and the themes she covers, from past romances to encounters with the Devil, may be nothing new, but given life just the same through her gift for song construction and her luminous voice. Stick around for "Master Hunter," a stomping, clanging and hypnotic chase through a sun-baked wilderness. 

Once I Was An Eagle will be released on May 27th, but in the meantime, listen to first single "Where Can I Go?" or watch "When Brave Bird Saved," the glowing, intimate short film from Fred & Nick featuring the album’s first four tracks, below. Or listen to the whole thing over at NPR this week. You’ll definitely want to do the latter. Seriously. Listen to the whole thing. 

Here’s A Listen From Laura Marling’s New Album

Laura Marling’s new album isn’t out until May 28, but she’s streaming a track of Where Can I Go right now.


Long before Adele was a household name, long before Ellie Goulding serenaded the royal couple at their wedding, Marling was a talented British songstress quietly putting out really, really good music. Her 2008 album Alas I Cannot Swim was beloved (by me, at least) but never quite got the CD-at-the-cashier-at-Starbucks status it deserved.  

She put out two more albums (and dated Marcus Mumford pre-Carey Mulligan) and will release her fourth album, Once I Was An Eagle, in May. Here’s a steam the single Where Can I Go, which is classic, dependable Marling, along with a tracklist of the other 15 songs over at Brooklyn Vegan

It’s quite good:

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September Music Reviews: Laura Marling, Beirut, Grace Jones

Laura Marling, A Creature I Don’t Know (Ribbon) After being showered with praise from The New York Times and Spin for her debut and sophomore albums, each of which was nominated for a Mercury Prize, expectations couldn’t be higher for Laura Marling’s latest elease, A Creature I Don’t Know. Fortunately for the 21-year-old British singer-songwriter—who already snagged the Best Female Solo Artist prize at the 2011 Brit Awards—the record is a triumph. Building on the strength of her previous two efforts, Creature boasts a folksy, wistful feel, but it’s her voice—at times light and subtle, at others bold and deep—that makes her music so unforgettable. —Sharon Wu

Tinariwen, Tassili (Anti-) Tinariwen, a revolving band of Touareg (nomads from northern Mali) musicians, recorded the songs that appear on their fifth album, Tassili, under the stars of the southeastern Algerian desert. They collaborated with TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone on reticence-free rhapsodies against the glow of nightly campfires, and the result is as back-to-basics as their open-air recording studio. Tinariwen’s signature assouf guitar style (which some suggest is a distant relative of blues music) goes acoustic with subdued percussion and handclaps so hypnotic they almost make translation—the group sings in Tamashek—unnecessary, even though their lyrics tell impassioned tales about a group of wanderers struggling for survival. “Tenéré Taqqim Tossam” is an ode to the Saharan spirit: “Oh jealous desert, why can’t you see you are a treasure?” —Tricia Taormina

The Kooks, Junk of the Heart (Astralwerks) After leaving no stone unturned on their multi-continental Konk tour, the Kooks are back with their signature, seemingly indefatigable enthusiasm—and matching guitar rhythms—but this time with the confidence to experiment with a sadder sound. Junk of the Heart, their third record, was recorded in the English countryside beginning in 2009. As infectious as their debut, Inside In/Inside Out, it delivers the Kooks’ classic pop-rock sound and impassioned lyrics, which are reminiscent of a road trip with the windows rolled down. More sedate tracks (“Taking Pictures of You”) may come as a bit of a surprise, but fear not, Kook-heads: singer Luke Pritchard follows through on his proclamation, “If it doesn’t make you feel good, what’s the point?” Point taken. —Rosa Heyman

CSS, La Liberación (V2/Cooperative Music USA/Downtown) Nothing gets the party started quite like São Paulo–based, adolescent-giddy pop-rock crew CSS (an abbreviation of Cansei de Ser Sexy, Portuguese for “tired of being sexy”), and their fourth album La Liberación is no exception. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the group, who released their raucous self-titled breakthrough in 2006, and it was worth the wait. Jam-packed with one dance-floor anthem after the next, La Liberación delivers tracks like “City Girl,” a surefire rump-shaker punctuated with refreshingly petulant lyrics like “Nothing hurts in the big city.” (If only that were the case.) “Hits Me Like a Rock,” the album’s first single, is about listening to your favorite jam over and over, and it’ll have you doing just that. —Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez

Beirut, The Rip Tide (Pompeii) Whereas The Flying Club Cup, Beirut’s second album, sounded like a zeppelin tour of the world, the Zach Condon–helmed music collective’s third full-length, The Rip Tide, looks for exoticism in the personal. There’s still an instrumental and stylistic fluency on the record, represented by exotic strings, last-call accordions, and a horn section that feels equal parts mariachi and polka, but the overall effect is sparer than Beirut’s previous efforts. Recorded in upstate New York, Brooklyn, and New Mexico, Rip Tide’s tracks began as melodies teased out on Condon’s ukulele or piano before his band would layer in ornate studio accompaniments, only to be distilled and refined again by Condon. Pompeii Records is owned and controlled by the indie darling himself, but that doesn’t stop standout track “Santa Fe” from sounding a bit like a pop song. —Megan Conway

A.A. Bondy, Believers (Fat Possum) A. A. Bondy, the founding member of Verbena, a ’90s rock outfit from Alabama, struck out on his own with two albums that garnered praise from the likes of Conor Oberst and Bon Iver. Now comes Believers, which was produced by Los Angeles–based impresario Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith, Beck). Deviating from Verbena’s harder sound, Bondy’s individual style is melancholy and deeply soulful. Like many of the languid rhythms for which he’s become known, the quirky instrumentals and rock-rooted melodies on Believers are spartan, simple, and sincere. —Sharon Wu

Grace Jones, Hurricane (Pias) Forget what you know about Grace Jones. No, actually don’t. After nearly two decades out of the limelight, the music and fashion icon has blown into town with her fifth studio album, Hurricane, proving she’s just as bizarre—and genius—as ever. Making full use of her growly pipes, Jones steps away from the Studio 54 beats of her past and veers into a synthesis of nü-metal, dub, and dancehall—which makes sense, given that she collaborated with everyone from Brian Eno and Tricky to reggae producers Sly and Robbie. Jones’ eclectic team gives her music depth, but while it bursts out of the gate at super-speed (“This is Life”), the record loses steam midway through (“Well Well Well”), sputtering to an abrupt halt (“Devil in My Life”) instead of accelerating across the finish line. —Hillary Weston

April Music Reviews: Laura Marling, Bright Eyes, Broken Social Scene

Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can (Astralwerks) Laura Marling’s second album contains whispery narratives and brassy love ballads, a show of range that should dispel any and all comparisons to other British pop tarts. In folksy, Celtic-inspired canticles, Marling ruminates on unorthodox topics such as The Odyssey, men at war and dreary snow. On “Blackberry Stone,” the album’s most heartfelt and saddest track, Marling keens over love lost with the most poignant limerick we’ve ever heard: “You never did learn to let the little things go/ You never did learn to let me be/ You never did learn to let little people grow/ You never did learn how to see.”—Eiseley Tauginas

Radio Dept., Clinging to a Scheme (Labrador) What’s better than witnessing a fall from grace? Witnessing a glorious comeback. Three songs off Radio Dept.’s first album, the critically acclaimed Lesser Matters, landed on Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette soundtrack. The follow-up, Pet Grief, eschewed the Swedish trio’s ambient-pop formula and drew tepid reviews. It’s been a long four-year wait for the band’s third record, but rest easy: Clinging to a Scheme pulls together the finest elements from the band’s previous offerings, mixing dreamy pop with punchy vocals. The album’s best moment comes courtesy of “Heaven’s on Fire,” thanks to a jarring sample of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore singing over sweet-sounding synths, “When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business, what are the youth to do?” —Cayte Grieve

The Kissaway Trail, Sleep Mountain (Bella Union) Critics who claim that the Kissaway Trail is nothing more than a poor man’s Arcade Fire can go ahead and pat themselves on their smug backs. The Danish five-piece’s sophomore effort, Sleep Mountain, is a forgettable Neon Bible, which is to say it’s perfectly fine background music stuffed to the gills with disparate indie rock influences. The opening track, “SDP,” is the album’s kitchen sink, with its forceful bass line, swelling chorus, piano chords, church bells and aching Win Butler-esque vocals. It’s a proven formula that might work if it didn’t feel so inauthentic. Tellingly, the album’s best song is a fragile and deliciously trippy cover of Neil Young’s “Philadelphia.” —Alexandra Vickers

Bright Eyes/Neva Dinova, One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels (Saddle Creek) Originally released as an EP in 2004 and now spiffed up with four additional tracks, One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels finds friends and collaborators Conor Oberst and Neva Dinova in good form. Stylistically varied, the album features both the moody, melodic down-tempo indie chuggers that Oberst is known for, as well as more rocking, ecstatic tunes. Those four new songs are welcome extras: “Happy Accident” has a forceful backbeat and cutting vocals, while “I’ll Be Your Friend” features a blistering sax solo. —Michael Jordan

Caribou, Swim (Merge) Swirling, propulsive and incredibly catchy, Swim is filled with rhythmic, warm electronica sounds that would fit in on the dance floor or around the campfire. The natural and unprocessed instrumentation lends a lovely ambiance to the more sparse sections and some jarringly playful “found sounds” arise in the addictive percussion. Daniel Snaith’s lilting voice floats in and out of the dense soundscapes, occasionally locking into a melody or a lyrical refrain. —M.J.

Chris Pureka, How I Learned to See in the Dark (Sad Rabbit/ABA) Traveling troubadour Chris Pureka is a sizzling amalgam of Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams. Each song on her unfettered, gritty third release, How I Learned to See in the Dark, uses gut-wrenching vocals to tug our ears’ heartstrings (never mind the disastrous anatomy misstep). Now backed by a full band, Pureka’s sound keeps maturing. “Landlocked” showcases her mastery of finger picking, while “Broken Clock” plays with rhythm and puns to put over the pain of a broken heart.—Hillary Weston

Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record (Art & Crafts) It’s time to face facts: Broken Social Scene will never make another You Forgot It in People. That landmark album was a brilliant balance of experiments and hooks. Their 2005 self-titled follow-up had more ambition but less form. But now that the burden of trying to top a classic has been lifted, the Toronto musicians can finally be themselves. The familiar enthusiasm (“Water in Hell”) and kinkiness (“Me and My Hand”) are there, as are Emily Haines, Amy Millan and Feist, who sing together for the first time on the luminescent “All to All.” On “Highway Slipper Jam,” BSS adds a jittery Radiohead-like beat to their repertoire, which goes to show even low-fi musicians eventually go digital. It’s not as catchy an effort as People, but then again, it isn’t trying to be.—Ashley Wetmore Simpson

The New Regime: Johnny Flynn & Laura Marling

For songwriters with such a precise way with words, Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling are all over the map these days. “I feel really connected to all the places that I’ve been and the images and stories that I’ve picked up along the way,” says Flynn, originally from South Africa, who met his kindred spirit and touring mate Marling in London, after the Hampshire-raised beauty moved away from her home at the age of 16. “I forgave myself for being a kid,” she says of the songs on her Mercury Prize-nominated debut album, Alas I Cannot Swim, released after her eighteenth birthday, featuring her smoky, intoxicating alto. “Everything up until then had been a massive self-indulgence, very teenage.”

Today, Marling draws on classic literary canons — the Brontë sisters are among her favorite writers — and a long tradition of folk music. Flynn displayed an equally lithe and literary touch on his highly praised album, A Larum. Before making his mark as a songwriter, he performed in an all-male Shakespearean theater troupe. And even though the Bard continues to be an inspiration, Flynn performs anything but golden oldies. “We’re playing instruments that have been around for hundreds of years,” he says, “but I believe that you can be present in your relationship to the past. The sound of my music has to be contemporary.”

Photo: Isa Wipfli, at Bowery Ballroom

From GaGa to Ratatat: Music for August

Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst (Merge Records). A phone left dangling off the hook. The singe of tequila as it’s washed down with salt. The smell of bonfire smoke as it’s carried away into the night sky. These are the everyday snapshots Conor Oberst conjures on his self-titled fourth solo album, a return to one-man showmanship after 13 years. As he trembles and wavers through drifting laments, his voice defying tone, the Bright Eyes frontman reveals a heart in shards, sparring with Ryan Adams to become the Bob Dylan of our generation. — Nick Haramis

The Faint, Fasciinatiion (blank.wav). Once the sonic embodiment of the Apocalypse itself, these vitriolic gents have decidedly refined their approach. Yet Fasciinatiion still sees them surfing the edges of social decay, as on “Machine In The Ghost,” where they sneer at our dangerous attachment to superstition (“History’s been crucified/ Humans supernaturalized”). The music, sort of Gary Numan tech with a Gang of Four attack, is appropriately futuristic and unsettling — but distinctly infectious. Briilliiant. — Ken Scrudato

Ron Sexsmith, Exit Strategy For The Soul (Yep Roc). On his irresistible ninth album, Canadian singersongwriter Ron Sexsmith doesn’t so much craft a song as he does bring it to life. Fluid, melodic and shimmering with Cuban horns, songs like “This is How I know” and “One Last Round” invite the listener to come early and stay late. Don’t miss his charmed version of “Brandy Alexander,” the track he co-wrote with countrywoman Feist. — Alison Powell

Laura Marling, Alas, I Cannot Swim (Caroline). On her debut album, this British folk prodigy carries the torch of Sandy Denny and Beth Orton — and does them proud. A natural storyteller, Marling uses her clear lilt to sing of an elusive unnamed “he.” The guy may have gotten away, but she has a firm hand on the weft of guitars, strings, tiny bells and a gently brushed drum. With songs titled “Crawl Out of the Sea” and “Captain and the Hour Glass,” the 18-year-old native of Berkshire, England conjures the 1800s in a briny nostalgia. But make no mistake, these shanties were born for the rough seas of the present. — A.P.

Ratatat, LP3 (XL). Ratatat’s third album is far more imaginative than its title. The Brooklyn instrumental duo’s previous releases proved sonically idiosyncratic yet strangely beguiling, percolating with heavy metal soloing, symphonic flourishes, experimental clang and hip-hop beats. LP3 largely replaces Ratatat’s trademark wall of guitars with keyboards and varied instruments to add more nuance and atmosphere. It ultimately proves more Morricone than Iron maiden — a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. — Matt Diehl

Lady GaGa, The Fame (Cherrytree/Interscope). “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick,” declares 22-year-old Lady GaGa on her sequined debut album. A roughshod Kylie, she oscillates between power wails and falsetto, not unlike, say, Gwen Stefani. “Poker Face” features spoken word that solicits obvious — but apt — comparisons to Peaches. — N.H.

Stereolab, Chemical Chords (4AD). The poster children for post-rock, Stereolab get playful on their first full album in four years. In the ’90s, the London collective pioneered bringing Krautrock “motorik” rhythms and Velvet Underground drones back into musical fashion. Chemical Chords, however, rewires vintage pop hooks into something new. Songs like “Falcon Jab” mutate happy Motown girl-group sounds with tinny drum machines, while “Mi Viejo” sounds like Wu-Tang scoring a Godard film. Odd, but gleeful.— M.D.

Juliana Hatfield, How To Walk Away (Ye Olde Records). Juliana Hatfield has shucked the trappings of alt-rock for her latest. Without the requisite snarl and angst, the set is simply a milquetoast assortment of AC radio friendly fillers. Though consistent, Hatfield’s cooing on songs like “So Alone” and “Shining on” sounds undifferentiated and bland — excusable for a novice, but not this indie vet. — Rohin Guha