In Review: MARINA - Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land

MARINA's ability to produce a dazzling album has never been in question, but at the dawn of her new era, the Welsh songstress is thriving. While dropping her former fan-inspired ‘and The Diamonds’ sobriquet before her fourth album, her fiercely loyal supporters are still rising up again in full force to support her fifth, ‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’. Transcending its predecessor, ‘Love + Fear’, MARINA takes socio-political themes and fuses them with pop genius to form an extraordinary set of work. Having co-produced much of the record, her influence is felt in the form of tight, deliberate melody and compelling tales of love and loss.

The first song written and released was ‘Man’s World’ which is a fight against the widely held tainted view of femininity held in the modern world: embracing her femininity is just one example of how MARINA's lyricism is refined in the record while maintaining her slight jocular tone. Written largely during the pandemic, the 10 tracks tackle a range of issues that found themselves at the forefront of MARINA's mind while the world changed. Feelings of anger and despair are persistent, but melded elegantly with a streak of playfulness.

Titular masterpiece ‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’ welcomes the artist’s new record with a bold wave of 80s wonder. With a driving bassline, disco-like synth work and bellowing vocals, it’s pop with a purpose. With a distinct vocal maturity and her signature diction, MARINA'S delivery adds urgency to her writings. ‘Venus Fly Trap’ is bursting with character and self-assurance. Standing true to the style we’re familiar with from preceding albums, it’s vibrant and sassy, but without the crutch of playing a character. She flaunts her natural flair for transition between chest and head voice as we know comes with ease to her. Standout lyric “why be a wallflower when you can be a venus fly trap?” captures the aura of the whole track.

If ‘Man’s World’ were to be played simultaneously on a global scale, the patriarchy would be demolished in one fell swoop. Written in 2019 and co-produced with Jennifer Decilveo (Miley Cyrus, Anne-Marie), it opens with buoyant piano before descending into dreamy falsetto layers of vocals. Pushing back against the negative reputation femininity has gained over human existence, MARINA rejoices in her own, and that of others regardless of gender and sexuality. A soaring alt-rock riff and upbeat percussion take ‘Purge The Poison’ to the podium as one of the record’s highlights. Britney, climate change and misogyny are just some of the topics broached here among a plucky, pop grunge backdrop. A lot of ground is covered, and it’s a lot to take in as a largely fast tempo track, but dreamy, haunting breaks between the chaos let us ponder the current state of affairs with the aid of a contagious melody.

It’s a daring thing to have the album’s opening tracks as the only singles to invite its release, and to slow the pace down after the intense high-glamour pop we’ve heard so far. The rest of the album remains captivating; notably ‘Highly Emotional People’ a rich and elegant ballad. Ever-ethereal, the harmonies are meditative and evolve with grace throughout the track. Much of the instrumentation is soporific until the final chorus is met with dramatic keys and matching thumps of bass. ‘New America’ is suitably dark; delving into the dark history of systemic racism in the US, and the strange sense of relief that came with the world being able to acknowledge that America as a global superpower is deeply flawed. It brings new-wave synth licks, and hard-hitting repetition for a thematically philosophical indie-pop piece.

Folk influences show face in piano ballad ‘Pandora’s Box’ before a pronounced chorus opens into painful lyricism. Melodically, it feels mature and sorrowful but maintains the classic MARINA air of optimism. ‘I Love You But I Love Me More’ is a breakup song that builds on her indie-rock experience, where drums take precedence in the instrumental, until a distorted guitar leadline rises through to meet a soaring vocal. Again flaunting her exquisite mezzo-soprano range, ‘Flowers’ is gentle and minimal, allowing twinkling piano and lyrics like “With every careless action, you let me slip away, If you just bought me flowers, maybe I would've stayed” space to stand out without excessive production. ‘Goodbye’ signals the end of the decadent record with unpredictably fierce delivery in another piano-driven introspective track. Aptly titled and aptly produced, the album ends gracefully.

Being entirely self written (and co-produced), the album holds a level of satisfaction that can be hard to find in modern day, pop-related ventures. Authenticity, raw delivery and socio-political commentary allow this to sit in a unique spot among releases that may be deemed similar by genre. In truth, ‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’ resists the confines of any single theme, genre or style (the latter of which had self-admittedly been an area of uncertainty in previous eras). MARINA has always been a visionary, and she’s back to remind us that this certainly remains the case.