I Speak Because I Can is the second album from Laura Marling. It is a powerfully intricate piece of work that progresses her music with a sound that is darker, bolder and more complex than her debut album. Invigorating and engrossing, it gives sufficient justification for Marling to be tagged as one of the UK’s finest singer songwriters. Every song here is emotionally stirring, a victory for the simple untainted power of music. Much has been made of Laura following an English folk lineage, but there are just as many organic American sounds present as well. For example, the powerful Americana of the opening Devils Spoke features heavy strumming, deep menacing male backing vocals and lyrics about “Ripping of each others clothes in a most peculiar way.” It grabs the attention immediately and this is held till the end of the record. The closing title track, a song apparently based on the story of Odysseus told from the perspective of Penelope, his wife, is a mercilessly tasteful but passionate song where Lara’s cool, confident, detached style finally erupts a little with a tender wail towards the end. It’s strong stuff.
In between the opener and closer I Speak Because I Can possesses huge amounts of quality. Alpha Swallows is mountainous, medieval and warlike, a turning uprising of musical force making everything on her debut, one of our albums of 2008, seem weak by comparison. Goodbye England with its lyrics of “A friend of mine says it’s good to hear that you believe in love even if set in fear,” remakes the delicate but strong lightness of Emmy The Great, but makes the sound even greater. It is quite simply one of the most wonderful things heard this year. Another song Hope In The Air mines the classic folk tradition of managing to make bewitchingly beautiful music out of quite depressing lyrical themes. “There’s hope in the air, and hope in the water, but no hope for me, your last serving daughter,” she sings. This is an album that is musically evocative, rich and sows deep seeds that grow into the tallest of trees. The so called new folk revival shows no signs of going away yet.
When Marling released Alas I Cannot Swim many critics couldn’t help but fall over themselves and proclaim her mature beyond her years. It looks like that statement needs to be wheeled out again, for Marling is still only twenty. With the singer already claiming that this album is just a stepping stone, with another release planned later this year, it’s going to be hugely exciting to hear what she comes up with to compare against this. I Speak Because I Can is a masterful piece of work, and if it doesn’t get Laura a second Mercury prize nomination, something is hugely wrong. A modern classic formed out of the oldest of traditions.