There's a gentle darkness to Laura Marling's songs that doesn't appear anywhere else at the present moment in music. It's a nostalgic darkness, harking back to the days of Joni Mitchell, Eva Cassidy and an early Beth Orton, all of whom resonate to an extent in Marling's music. But despite the musical remnants of the past, these songs are unmistakably modern. From lyrics about size zero in the opening track, "New Romantic", to the particularly apt references to binge-drinking in the closing track, "Typical", this is a folk singer writing for today.
The clever structures of these beautifully crafted songs, coupled with a quickness of pace reminiscent of Mike Skinner, meshed together with the magical intonations of Nick Drake, reveal that Marling isn't messing about when it comes to perfection. She's not offering promise, she's already delivered.
Take "New Romantic", for instance. Here's a song written by someone who has not only fallen in love, but has hung, drawn and quartered the experience until she is left with a classic that could make even the most hardened soul weep. The nods to Ryan Adams and her love for her own mum only underline the realism that so many of her contemporaries struggle to achieve. Marling isn't claiming to be something she is not. She is simply, unapologetically, honest.
Perhaps the best achievement on this EP, the prelude to an album released on 11 February, is the third track, "My Manic and I". Given its evocative lyrics of the gods, lovesickness and beautiful death, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stumbled across a translation of Puccini. This, married to the metronomic piano, the haunting backing vocals and, of course, Marling's ever-present internal rhymes, softly sung yet undercut with harsh tragedy, tell the listener they're in a theatrical dreamland that they can only leave when the song ends.
The final track, "Typical", shifts the mood again and takes the listener away from the dreamy introspection. Offering another side to the stories of drunkenness and inappropriate behaviour never explored in the tabloids, Marling is already maturing beyond tales of love.
Throughout this debut EP, there remains a ghostly melancholy, conjured up in the opening string-plucked bar and finally laid to rest in silence. But this ghost will return and this blonde- haired songstress from Eversley, who promises her first love he'll always remain just that, might also become yours.
Gareth May, stand-up comic, Middlesex