About six or seven years ago, I worked the graveyard shift at a hotel in the small town where I grew up. I’d graduated college, lived abroad, and was now back living with my parents.
One night, there were two, maybe three guests in the hotel. It was close to two in the morning, and I was sure they’d gone to bed. The lobby was empty, ghostly. I could see out the front doors to a night just as empty. The air inside twitched and hummed with florescence. Sometimes it could get very lonely in there. I didn’t want to watch Netflix, didn’t want to do the coursework that I was supposed to be doing to become certified as a teacher, and didn’t want to write. Instead, I opened YouTube and searched for a young singer from Britain I’d heard of named Laura Marling. I found an entire show of hers from Germany. I watched the first part, then the second, then the third, and then the fourth. I was transfixed.
When I finished watching the concert, I immediately went to Amazon and ordered Marling’s debut album “Alas, I Cannot Swim.” The first time I saw her live was a year or so later, in Dallas. My sister and I went because when one of us loves something, the other loves it too. When we got home that night, I couldn’t sleep. I wrote a song about leaving, about moving on, about not standing still. I wrote a song about looking for something beautiful and full of purpose. Later, that song would become my band’s first single.
I don’t know if there’s a way for me to explain how much Laura Marling’s music means to me. It’s part of me, ingrained in my psyche. Every time she puts new work out, I listen, and a single word comes flooding into my heart. Yes. As in—yes—this is me. Yes—this is my life.
Marling is releasing a new album called “Short Movie” on March 24, and “False Hope” is the second single. Up until now, she’s stuck mostly to acoustic guitar and a folksy sound. “Short Movie” is her first self-produced album, and it’s already sounding braver and brasher than anything she’s done. Her vocals are guttural. Where she usually begins a song by plucking a delicate guitar line, “False Hope” comes in with heavy strumming, a bite of grit and nastiness in the tone.
As the song gets to the bridge, she sings of a woman downstairs who’s lost her mind. “She’ll be all right tomorrow. Neither of us are gonna sleep tonight so it’ll come slow. I hear you banging through the wall, a dying animal’s last call.” The words and the music are full of cageyness, of unspent anguish, of longing and scratching, and momentary insanity. It feels as if something will surely burst.
Instead, the song slips back into another verse then another chorus. The form returns to what we expect it to be. Except everything’s looser than it was before. Something’s been shaken free, something that can’t go back to the cohesion of the first two verses and choruses. The last we hear is a single note, sliding into discord. The sound is empty, ghostly.
If you like “False Hope,” listen to “Short Movie” and “The Beast” by Laura Marling. If you’re at SXSW this week, you can find all her shows listed here.