The college experience can largely be defined as a time of “becoming.” Part of this is because the academic experience is one that requires focus and progress towards a goal (i.e. choosing a major and getting a degree). But most of this becoming is simply inherent in the life stage of eighteen to twenty-three-year-olds in Western culture. Ready or not, adulthood begins to settle in and the question “who am I?” is answered less and less by a connection to our parents. For many this is the time when people move out of their parents’ homes and therefore the idea of “home” becomes more complicated and unknown.
As the 2009-1010 SAO concert season comes to a close, there may be no more fitting artist to perform at Calvin College than Laura Marling. Just 18 when her debut album, Alas I Cannot Swim, was nominated for the Mercury Prize, Marling is now a 20-year-old asking all the questions that accompany with becoming.
Feeling out of place at her Quaker school in Reading, England, she moved to London at 16 to pursue music and find a community that understood her. The result is that the nu-folk scene that includes Mumford & Sons and Noah & the Whale was born. After being a part of the original line-up for Noah & the Whale, Marling struck out on her own. The influence of these folk friends is evident in her music. “Rambling Man,” one of the tracks her new album I Speak Because I Can, is a good example. It has a very similar composition to many Mumford songs. Produced by Ethan Johns, I Speak has a more mature sound than Alas I Cannot Swim while maintaining some of the rapid-fire style that she shows on that album.
Thematically the new album, centers on "responsibility, particularly the responsibility of womanhood.” Lyrically there is a new depth on these tracks that some are calling darkness or melancholy. But it is not unfocused teenaged angst put to music. These are thoughtful songs grounded in her larger life journey—her process of becoming. As one reviewer put it, “Marling tenderly trace the arcs of relationships with former lovers, as well as the importance of her Hampshire family roots and the jagged conflicts of womanhood and marriage. There's no breast-beating here, more an exquisite quality of guarded observation that lingers long after the record has finished.”
The contrast in album titles reflects the process Marling is engaged in. The shift from Alas I Cannot Swim to the more confident and possibly defiant I Speak Because I Can gives a snapshot of the direction Marling’s life is headed. As she sings on one track “I tried to be a girl who likes to be used / I’m too good for that / There is a mind under this hat.” Marling is becoming a woman who knows who she is, what she needs and what she has to offer. As she put it, "I'm almost an entirely different person to the one I was when I wrote the first album.”
As another school year comes to a close and each of us is another year into our own journey of becoming, we are given the chance to share in Marling’s experiences with just that process. As she sings her songs about home, love and life, we are afforded the opportunity to reflect on our evolving definition of each of those things. Join Laura Marling at the Ladies Literary Club on May 6 for a night of becoming and consider this question: Whom are you becoming?
- Eric Kuiper