In 2010, Marina Diamandis broke into the music scene as Marina and the Diamonds — a glittering, idiosyncratic, unapologetically honest pop act. Eleven years later, she may have dropped “and the Diamonds” from her moniker, but her music continues to shine like pure, crystalline carbon.
Her fifth studio album Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, released June 11, is no exception. Diamandis, who now performs mononymously as Marina, returns to her Electra Heart roots as she confronts some of the most pressing issues of the 21st century. Whether she is building a sisterhood of Hollywood witches or deconstructing the psychology of toxic masculinity, she confronts each song with honest lyricism and punchy theatricality, reminding audiences why they first fell in love with her more than a decade ago.
Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land sees Marina transcending her physical body to assess an earthly terrain of racism, misogyny and unfettered capitalism. In the album-opening title track, she combines futuristic electropop with a palpable longing to return to time before her own formation. “You don’t have to be like everybody else/ You don’t have to fit into the norm/ You are not here to conform,” she chants before launching into a jumpy chorus delivered in her effortless soprano. The track sets the tone for the rest of the album, simultaneously confronting the ills of modernity and celebrating her individuality.
“Got a figure like a pin-up, got a figure like a doll,” Marina sings on her 2012 hit “Bubblegum Bitch.” She takes a similar, though more understated, approach in the opening lines of “Man’s World,” comparing herself to a “Boucher cherub” and a “strawberry soda.” However, her aesthetic imagery is quickly swept into biting political commentary: “Burnt me at the stake, you thought I was a witch/ Centuries ago, now you just call me a bitch,” she sings in her rich vibrato. Throughout Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, Marina makes a point of being more overtly political, and her lyrics leave careful incisions in the skin of the patriarchy.
Marina has turned to more serious subjects, but she never strays far from her signature sound; her songs are fun, poppy and often unpredictable. From the strong percussion of ecofeminist anthem “Purge the Poison” to the bouncy piano of “Venus Fly Trap,” Marina constantly keeps listeners on their toes. An electric guitar slowly builds during the breakup anthem “I Love You But I Love Me More,” exploding in a burst of well-earned confidence. The disco-infused accompaniment of “New America” provides an interesting backdrop as Marina mows down white picket fences to reveal the darkness of inequality. From time to time, however, the lyrics prove a bit too literal, as she sings, “And now our food don’t taste/ Like it’s meant to do,” in an awkwardly forced critique of industrial agriculture.
Marina spends a majority of Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land looking out at the world, but in the last four tracks, she takes a look inside herself. On “Flowers,” she trades in her bold belt for a soft soprano that delicately dances over the piano accompaniment. Marina is at her most vulnerable, assessing the failures of a past relationship. Though markedly different from the previous tracks, the song feels purposeful. Marina’s lived experiences are tightly interwoven with her worldview, and her breakup tracks dig further into who she is and what she stands for. By the end of the album, an important truth emerges: Each song is purely, authentically Marina.
Like a 24-carat diamond, Marina has only become more brilliant and durable with time. She has come a long way from the days of Electra Heart, but she confronts her more mature subjects with both energy and grace. If listeners walk away with one thing, it is that this is Marina’s world — men are just (barely) living in it.