The euro queen of alternative electropop
Since her 2009 alternative introduction, The Family Jewels, independent femme artist MARINA has become both a coveted and niche part of the indie-pop community. Formally known as Marina & The Diamonds, the Welsh singer’s vibrant 12+ year career went from Myspace obscurity to pop sensation almost overnight.
With her new album Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, MARINA has created sounds that are more cohesive and sure of themselves from a lot of her past projects. Whereas past songs have focused on fantasy, love and youth, this album feels more socially commentating and real.
What makes MARINA stand out from other pop musicians is a drive to create well-rounded songs with lyrics full and focused, but also instrumentals that don’t lose their drive. In this same respect, her newest creation, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, is an album to dance to in a club, but also something to reflect on. Another constant that makes MARINA special is her ability to fully embrace the power of femininity. She sought out female producers for the project, taking suggestions from friends and fans alike and wrote the entire album herself.
Producer Derek Davies said of the album, “It’s the closest cousin in the discography to that first record…it’s her most indie, alternative record yet.” Ever the bold, quirky and off-beat pop musician, it’s difficult to compare her to anyone else. MARINA said of the inspirations behind some of the album, “The pandemic allowed a lot of us to step back and look at what kind of lives we’re living, and nothing feels sustainable…we’re all allowed to challenge the system that we’re in.”
The title track of the album “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land” is modern indie-pop meets disco. The minor key focus evokes that spooky, vintage feel. Bold and dramatic, this song feels like a remix off of Froot, and the rapid-fire lyrics with those ’80s synth-funk beats make it very reminiscent of glam rock.
“Venus Fly Trap” almost feels like a pop version of “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles, with its lyrics’ intentions of standing up for one’s own career. MARINA sings, “They’ll shame you, blame you, pretend to even hate you/ Take away your rights, pacify you with their lies/ Whatever you give life, you are gonna get back/ Why be a wallflower when you can be a Venus fly trap?” This song is an ode to her own journey on becoming self-made while recognizing that it’s not about the fame or fitting in but building a life that to be proud of.
“Man’s World,” the album’s lead single, is a glorious femme pop dream. It’s layered with subtle piano intros, thoughtful and historically based lyrics and disco-inspired drum beats. “Purge the Poison” is especially reminiscent of some of her older albums, especially songs like “Hollywood” with that alternative rock motive more than the pop realm she’s been leaning toward. It continues to evoke that very much femme power with lyrical mentions of Britney and the Met Too movement. “Need to purge the poison from our system/ Until human beings listen/ Tell me, who do you think you are?” With haunting lifts amidst her quick-thinking lyrics, she wrote this song after the death of George Floyd to inspire change.
“Highly Emotional People” is a ballad about toxic masculinity and a lack of communication in a relationship, an ode to her past romantic endeavors. “New America” is powerful and fast-moving with taut strings, all about exposing America for its bloody past, like erasing the contributions of African Americans and taking land from Natives.
Beautiful, simple and hauntingly sweet, “Pandora’s Box” is a song about being cheated on. It’s another slow and sad piano ballad with some strings. “I Love You but I Love Me More” is a sister track set in another minor key, but this time with light alt-rock influence. It’s a song about protecting the heart against a lover that promises to change. In the vulnerable track “Flowers,” MARINA goes all up and down her vocal scale, showing off her range, and the chorus is as gentle as a lullaby. “Now we reached the end/ I ran the marathon/ The road had many bends/ But we knew that all along.”
The first half of the album is intoxicating—it’s danceable and full of fun energy. The second half of the album is all heartbreak and slow piano-filled ballads, carried mostly by MARINA’s whimsical vocals. Overall, the songs are more layered and serious than previous works. She keeps up her energy and style but loses some of the irony and playfulness of past works. It’s MARINA matured.
In the past, specifically with Electra Heart, MARINA has expressed her discomfort and said that those songs weren’t really her. She experienced similar feelings with Love + Fear and Froot. For Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, MARINA switched management and took on the task of writing all of her own songs. She now considers this one of her best albums.