her finest work

Laura Marling // Semper Femina

There is a line from Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid that nearly a decade ago Laura Marling decided to have tattooed on her leg: “Varium et mutabile semper femina” it runs, translating roughly as “A woman is an ever fickle and changeable thing.” Realizing that the line was a little long for the limb, at the very last moment she opted instead for an abbreviation: “Semper femina” she chose: “Always a woman.” It makes a fitting and fascinating title for Marling’s sixth album — an intimate, devoted exploration of femininity and female relationships, and among her finest work to date. Written largely on the tour that followed 2015’s Short Movie and recorded in Los Angeles with production from Blake Mills, it is at once a distinctive and musically compelling collection of songs, run through with Marling’s fierce intelligence; a keen, beautiful and unparalleled take on womanhood.

“I started out writing it as if a man was writing about a woman,” Marling says. “And then I thought it’s not a man, it’s me — I don’t need to pretend it’s a man to justify the intimacy of the way I’m looking and feeling about women. It’s me looking specifically at women and feeling great empathy towards them and by proxy towards myself.”

The songs grew out of what Marling regards as “a masculine time” in her life. “A certain time when I’d sort of gone on this trip of abandoning any sexuality,” she says. “Now in retrospect I was hopped up on the times, but I was living in LA, and LA does have an amazing knack for removing sexuality. I found it quite scary; I was scared of what I perceived to be the disappearance of my feminine side. But it gave me an ability to look at women in a different way and consider how I’d been looked at.”

In retrospect there was a precursor to this strange period of her life — Short Movie had been concerned with the breaking down of the ego, “And then I guess piecing back together an ego you get to see it in all its parts,” she says. “And tied in with this was the magical realism of living in LA.” Having spent several years in Los Angeles, Marling now splits her time between the UK and California. “And LA makes me feel very different to England,” she says. “Now my love affair with LA is at a point where I don’t really leave my house and all my friends are English. It’s a great place to be, but it’s not an enticing fantastical adventure anymore, and I think the election has brought that home.”

Marling’s exploration of femininity is as broad as it is tender. On tracks such as Wild Once she was interested in the archetype of the wild woman and her unrestrained physicality. “In the more masculine phase of my life I got really into hiking and bouldering, scrambling up trees or whatever,” she explains. “And I just hadn’t exercised that part of myself for such a long time, and it was felt fantastic. It touched something that was really sweet and innocent. At a time when I couldn’t really find that center, I was touching on it running through a forest by Big Sur with no shoes on.”

Elsewhere she’s looking at “What’s been forbidden to me in female relationships in all forms, and at female empathy between each other, and friendships that have been really intense.” On The Valley, for instance, a track she calls “a bit of an English nostalgia trip” she writes about “broken female friendships, and how that feels to be betrayed or betray a friend or a woman in any way.”

The nature of female friendship has been a long-standing interest for Marling. “And again it’s blurred as you open up the boundaries more,” she says. “But the falling in love that you experience with friendship is so less defined than romantic or sexual love. I’ve been obsessed with that always I think,” she says. “Because I have sisters maybe, and a mother. And I think because of that there’s a high standard of trust and care that I place on myself and that I feel in my female friends as well — we have quite a high empathetic standard for each other. So I feel when that’s broken it’s so powerful. And I’m guilty of that in many respects because I’m so absent-minded. Until now I just hadn’t really thought about that being a subject matter for a song, but when I tapped into the sadness of that, or the regret, or the feeling of being on the other side of that, I found that quite a fruitful well of stuff. So there’s a lot of that on this record, that trying to make amends for those sort of broken channels.”

She also became fascinated by the life of the psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salome. “I came across her by accident through a love letter that [Rainer Maria] Rilke wrote,” Marling says. “I was obsessed with Rilke, and he wrote about her being the only tangible thing that he’d ever encountered in his life — the famous quote is ‘You alone are real to me’.” Marling read about Andreas-Salome extensively — from her upbringing in Russia, through her intellectual and romantic relationships with figures such as Paul Ree, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, her unconsummated marriage to Friedrich Carl Andreas, and her passionate affair with Rilke which led to his Duino elegies.

Rather than her relationships with famous male figures it was Andreas-Salome’s own psychoanalytic research that Marling found particularly interesting: “Just before Freud died she wrote him a letter saying ‘I’ve been doing some research into the feminine psyche and I think you’ve got it completely wrong. Penis envy is an invention of man because women’s sexuality by its nature is internal and self-perpetuating, so there’s no lack of this or need of that. It’s this internal, inherently creative thing without men.’ And Freud wrote to her and said this is amazing and this is true, but he died two months later so it never got published. And that blew my mind. Imagine! It would’ve changed the entire psyche of the western world.”

These thoughts were shaped further by Marling’s ongoing podcast project Reversal of the Muse which saw her interviewing women from across the music industry — from famed singers such as Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris to female sound engineers, and guitar shop owners, discussing the nature and shape of female creativity. “I would say that feminine creativity, the feminine part of the brain is in both sexes, but is inherently different to the masculine,” she says, “I had a lot of chats with Blake about how we started playing guitar,” she says, “and he said ‘I started playing because I wanted to impress girls- though I suspect that was a flippant remark rather than the whole truth. But it worked as an example as that was obviously so different to why I started playing guitar — that was never in my brain to impress boys; “and for me, playing guitar has always been tied up with my identity, it’s always been involved in myself, rather than enticing people in.”

Having produced Short Movie herself, Marling decided to enlist Mills as producer for Semper Femina. “I really enjoyed producing but it’s just not my calling,” she says. “I’d love to do it for someone else, but for myself it was too difficult to play both roles. Making the podcasts I discovered I play off the vulnerability of being a solo human being, playing a very vulnerable song in front of a microphone with six people in a control room. It’s a weird dynamic, but it has always worked for me. A lot of songwriters I know can’t bear to be overheard when they’re songwriting, but I quite like it — I write in venues or dressing rooms when there are eight people in the room. There’s something thrilling and weirdly voyeuristic about it. But I like the idea that it will be heard, and if I’m producing it feels like it might only be heard by me.”

Looking for a producer, and already a fan of his music, she was told that Mills had written a list of people he wanted to work with and that her name was on it. This is not to say recording was always straightforward, and working with a new, male producer brought familiar challenges for Marling. “I think Blake was very sweetly not sure what to do with an English girl,” she says. “It took a week or two to shake off the very set image of what I was in his mind — a very romping through the countryside delicate character from Emma. And I’ve had that so many times. And in some ways I’m think you can keep that image of me, but in other ways I have to break it in order to get work done, because it’s a really heavy block between you and what you want to get done. And also because I’d just come from producing a record myself I had to get rid of that idea of delicacy.”

More than anything on Semper Femina Marling addresses the space between the perceptions and realities of being a woman, the space in which women are not frail but powerful, creative and abundant figures. “When I was a teenager in my head you were either this delicate tragedy or you were a muse,” she says. “And they’re both such horrifyingly subjugated roles. But our culture loves female tragedy. That’s just been so ingrained over and over again, and there haven’t been enough examples of a written alternative. My main focus is re-writing the idea of tragic woman.”

If Marling sounds galvanized it’s because this album marks a shift in her career. “The time and the political climate that we live in, we’re coming to a point where there’s no need for this sort of artistic expression that I’ve been a part of,” she says. “Innocent creativity had a little flourish in the last ten years. But also I’m getting older and now I think ‘What use is that?’ It’s not rooted, not pointed, not political. For me right now I feel like it’s more important that I have a practical use.”

Dark memory//Rp for lightofvanaheim

@lightofvanaheim

Kara moves through the wreckage lightning sparking from her fingertips as she steps over a body her wild magic having destroyed the entire village and a small swatch of forest as well. Her eyes were fixed upon a miserable wretch of a man that was chained to the front of a building as the storm throws bits of debris into him breaking bones and opening cuts. She was going to kill him yes, but for now she wanted to make him feel her pain.

This was her finest work, after having lost Shadow to a hunter she had also lost herself and now all she was focused on was making them pay and letting the violence of the storm wash away the pain and lost she felt. The young Vanir had already killed most of the hunting party responsible striking them down with the fury of a bolt of lightning and leaving only one alive knowing that just killing him was not enough to bring Shadow justice.

The man who had struck the mortal blow was the one she had left there, bleeding and burned by lightning as the small woman carries away the body of her wolf burying her under a large tree like the kind they had met under all those years ago. She does not even try to stop her tears stroking her friend’s fur one final time before climbing out of the grave and covering the body with dirt. She burned Shadow’s name into a large sandstone rock she dragged over, the lightning flowing from her fingertip turning the sand she touched to glass. Once those letters were formed she adds a few words knowing she could not leave it just with that.  “This wolf saved my life, without her I am death.” Was what she wrote vowing to make the last man pay knowing that the only way to make him feel the pain she did was to destroy everything that he had.

She pushes her memories to the back instead focusing on what she had learned from a book of dark magic as she moves forwards sparks flickering along the fabric dark cloak she was wearing as she does so not caring about control. Her eyes were also full of sparks boring into the man’s soul as she finally stands in front of him looking up. Despite the fact that he was a foot taller than her he felt terrified as the young woman extends a hand and places it against his broken body knowing she had dislocated and broken every bone in his body and burned most of his skin with the very lightning that lived on hers. She ignores his pleads for death instead slashing his stomach before cutting him down and walking away knowing nothing could save him and that all he could do now was wait for death. Her work was not over though, there were many who hunted the wolves and she would not rest until they were all dead and everyone knew to respect the creatures and never dare even think about harming one.

Questionable Artistry

Hers is a craft that leaves marks, and he just handed her his heart.

Modern AU, Solavellan. 2800~ words, rated T.

part 1 / part 2part 3 / part 4

The book is finished a week later, as promised.

It’s some of her finest work, Ellana thinks – the owl in the centre, wings regally spread, and every feather etched with careful precision. The embellishments around the edges and the spine is a design of her own creation, deeply-chiselled whorls and waves; the relief causing an illusion of light and shadow, begging for the reverent trace of a fingertip along the finely carved ridges.

She wraps it in silk paper and leaves it on the counter, fixes her hair twice – once up, a loose bun, then down, then up again. Then she gives up the whole venture, sits down to watch Bull whittle a Darkspawn piece for his chess board, and to keep her hands busy works idly on a discarded block of wood until she’s covered head to toe in dust, and it would be true to her luck to have him show up now, but he doesn’t. The day goes by, and the next, and the next, and there’s no sign of Solas.

At first she tries not to think too much about it – doesn’t want to think about it, or him, and the words they’d exchanged last. Shame burns in her heart at the memory, and she can’t bear to look at the vhenadahl, always at the corner of her eye, no matter where she turns. She doesn’t even know who she’s truly angry at – him, for his callous remarks, or herself, for taking it so bloody personally.

But if she’s waiting for an apology, or even for him to show up at all, she appears to be waiting in vain, and irritation sparks when she thinks about the book – the hours spent, unpaid if his refusal to show up is some kind of silent, petty rebuttal to their argument. The confusing part is that he doesn’t strike her as the type to do such a thing, but if not that, then what? For all their previous meetings he’s exhibited a near mechanical sense of punctuality, but now there’s hasn’t been so much as a word. And of course, she still doesn’t have his number, or even an address. What’s worse, the thought that his absence could be due some misconstrued notion that she needs space rankles more than she’d like to admit. She’s a professional – she’s endured more than her share of insufferable customers. A differing opinion wouldn’t have hindered her work, and the fact that he might think that bothers her more than anything else.

The days pass in a quiet haze, and she moves between projects with a half-hearted diligence in a vain attempt to distract herself, but failing to reach the singular mindset that would keep her thoughts from drifting. But she’s sitting by her workbench one late afternoon when the bell chimes, and she hears the rumble of thunder from outside, following at the heels of the door heralding someone’s arrival with its usual gusto. It’s been pouring down all day, and she’s surprised anyone would venture out in this weather, but a flicker of hope bursts to life behind her breast at the thought that it might be him, and she’s on her feet before the door has slammed shut again, almost forgetting to put down her chisel in her hurry.

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