Laura Marling’s latest is an example of what the young and prolific English singer-songwriter does best. A Song for Our Daughter is subtle and simple, yet intricate; and efficient yet somehow sprawling. Marling makes everything she does here appear effortless. Because of that, she often floats just under the radar of wide acclaim; A Song for Our Daughter should bring her more fans but will most likely remain as most Marling albums are: as treasures to take in your hands and cherish.
This album is incredibly economical, clocking in at 36 minutes and hardly seeming to waste a minute. Marling’s working with a theme here, as indicated by the title, but it is more so a letter to her younger self (or selves) than to a hypothetical child. The album feels in line with Marling’s last release in 2017, Semper Femina, in that it is purposefully deciding to look through a female lens. Marling is always doing that, but here she clarifies through her subject material that she strictly concerns herself with female interests and specificities. The album is primarily supported by female backing vocals or harmony tracks, which give the illusion that Marling is channeling the feminine spirit at large.
Marling’s mission begins with “Alexandra,” a song inspired by Leonard Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving.” The aforementioned female backing vocals are another thread throughout the album that invokes the supreme singer-songwriter Cohen; he is a crucial artist to reference for this theme as many of his most well-beloved songs are about, if not also named after, women. However, Marling is interested here in Alexandra after the man. Once Alexandra leaves the male singer-songwriter’s life, what does she feel? Where does she go? Marling asks a potent question when she sings, “if she loved you like a woman, did you feel like a man?” A subtle poke at gender roles and how they inform each other, and art, and how art then informs life is packed into that question. Marling spends the rest of the album considering that question, as well as what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated world.
“Fortune” is a late-album entry that is one of the more quiet songs on the album, but which unfurls into beauty. Marling invokes the long-held practice of her older female relatives of keeping a “running away fund,” which never amounted to much but which nevertheless gave the women a chance to assert some agency over their lives. Marling’s vocals as she sings about releasing herself from “this unbearable pain” is the key to the song, as she expresses the desire to finally break from these “female traditions” that stem from a lack of fundamental freedoms.
However, Marling is embracing the experiences she has had in other parts of A Song for Our Daughter. “Strange Girl” is a highlight of the album, and relatively “upbeat” for Marling, which sees her tell her “strange, lonely, angry, brave” younger self that she loves her. In this song, she embraces the messiness of becoming a woman and admires all who have made it through. “Only the Strong” and “Blow by Blow” are considering how you gain strength from loss or pain. While “Blow by Blow” considers how “note by note/bruise by bruise/sometimes the hardest thing to learn/is what you get from what you lose,” “Only the Strong” remarks that “bruises all end up benign.”
Marling synthesizes these lessons learned into “Song for Our Daughter,” which finds Marling thinking about a daughter growing old “and all of the bullshit that she might be told.” Marling deftly invokes the ancient story of the rape of Lucretia to convey the centuries-old struggle for women to prove their worth and earn respect: “there’s blood on the floor/ maybe now you’ll believe her for sure.” This title track employs a lush string arrangement by the prolific Rob Moose to highlight it as the centerpiece of the album.
Throughout the rest of Song for Our Daughter, there are musical touches that reward further listening. Marling had a small but very capable production team for Song, and the economy of the production benefits each song. The layered harmonies on “Held Down” distinguish that song from others. At the same time, the piano performance of Anna Corcoran on “Blow by Blow” brings a classic feel to this classically beautiful song. Later in the album, Marling employs a pedal steel guitar on “Hope We Meet Again” to appropriately plaintive effect. The final track, “For You” is included in its demo form, which feels appropriately organic. This song is for a future newborn, and its raw production contributes to its raw emotion.
In total, A Song for Our Daughter finds Laura Marling doing what she does best. While the initial impact of the album may feel almost “too” subtle and delicate, careful consideration of Marling’s themes and production makes this album one of this year’s best.