Following in the dusty, sun-baked footsteps of 2013's mesmerizing Once I Was an Eagle, Laura Marling's fifth studio outing feels even more rooted in the California desert, doubling down on the former's penchant for pairing breezy, American west coast mysticism with bucolic, Sandy Denny-era English folk, but with a subtle shift in architecture. Marling's gift for gab and deft finger-picking are still front and center, but with the self-produced Short Movie, she's expanded her sonic palette by plugging in. While by no means a straight-up electric guitar album, Short Movie does bristle with a current of nervy energy, and that coffee-black, post-midnight buzz is the fuel that gives cuts like "False Hope," "Don't Let Me Bring You Down," "Gurdjieff's Daughter," and the hypnotic title track their swagger. That said, Marling is an unrepentant folkie, and those late-night blasts of tube-driven self-evaluation and raw verisimilitude eventually give way to bleary-eyed mornings spent assessing the wreckage, and the album's best moments arrive via the aged wood and steel of her trusty acoustic. The dreamy, psych-tinged opener "Warrior" invokes Nick Drake's "Road" with its bluesy, open tuning and refrain of "I can't be your horse anymore, you're not the warrior I'm looking for," while the equally Drake-ian "Feel Your Love" offers up a less defensive, but no less weary stance toward potential suitors, positing "you must let me go before I get old, I need to find someone who really wants to be mine." Avoiding complacency has always been the light that guides the precocious singer/songwriter (only 25 at the time of release, this is Marling's fourth album in just five years), and Short Movie does little to temper that restlessness. It may lack the cohesion of her last outing, and her steadfast derision of anything resembling a hook can be taxing, but it makes up for its meandering with a strength of character that eludes many of her contemporaries. An old soul to say the least, Marling continues to evolve as both a musician and a writer, albeit subtly, and we're all the better for it.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger