It has always been astounding that a talented voice like Marina Diamandis has yet to fully create an album where she finds a proper equilibrium between production and lyricism throughout. She has shown a lot of flashes in her career; specifically on Froot, the third album in her resume. Despite a lackluster fourth release, she has come back full circle to deliver a beautifully vibrant electro-pop album with more hits than duds on her fifth studio album, Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land. This album takes a trip down memory lane, both lyrically and sonically, as she delivers tracks that are resonant of her universal pop career through metaphorical landscapes. At times it takes missteps by guiding toward some broad redundancies in the themes/lyrical content, but the production still shines as a co-lead.
There has always been something about Marina’s voice that had me questioning why she kept steering in a slightly generic – dance pop route that never highlighted her strengths. But the more she started to learn and grow, as an artist, the more it started to seem that she is usually at her best when she is in some control of the sonic direction, instead of forcing the production to fit a concept. Though that isn’t necessarily the case with every producer she has worked with, delivering some standouts like “Primadonna,” off her sophomore release, Electra Heart. On a lot of these earlier albums there has been too much of a focus on grabbing the best and putting out glamorized dance records to fit a concept. When she is one of the foundations for the production, whether solo or with co-producers, there is a shift in focus.
The production on Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land is unlike her earlier, more fraught work, weaving these unique dance and electro-pop, some of which doesn’t overly glamorize and allows her words and themes steer the ship. However some tracks steer the ship too far from visceral direction the first few deliver before going into – the at times – redundant subject matter, like on “Purge The Poison,” which focuses on breaking apart the evils in society and America. It keeps going on the off-putting “New America,” which is about the issues with the social problems of America and it is taken into a world of boredom.
Unfortunately the production is the only highlight to come from the aforementioned tracks, amongst others, where the production takes the limelight. The other tracks contain sonic consistency and, despite some decent lyricism, Marina delivers great performances, like on “Pandora’s Box.” It has a tedious message that uses Pandora’s Box as a form of trying to let the emotions flow or if not, what is eventually let out is uncontrollable chaos. And though that’s a little on the nose, Marina gives a subtly beautiful performance over a melancholic electro-pop centric ballad that buoys the echo-backing vocals into organized chaos.
Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land isn’t devoid of quality from both the production and the writing. The title track and “Venus Fly Trap,” for example, use these radiant metaphors, some of which reflect on Marina’s person and being, to express these warming and inspiring themes about life. A lot of the subsequent tracks start to embody more centric pop conventions, opposed to the glitzy electro-pop. A huge factor comes from the fact that she is keeping it simple and letting the glowing instruments create the backing. One such instrument that gets a boost on the production is the percussion and electric guitar, which carries the load. In doing so, Marina and her co-producers free flow, introducing an array of differently constructed production for the tracks. They take Marina’s vocal prowess and, like in past work, give us the work she flourishes in, the soft-emotional ballads.
Marina is at her apex when she breaks down the comfortable dance conventions coating her music. It’s because her voice is like the most powerful instrument she has always had and with the few ballads she gives us, there are some great ones. However, the individual standout comes from “I Love You More Than I Love Me,” which reinforces the thought that her love is worth more than what happened between her and her ex, Jack Patterson of Clean Bandits. The track that closes Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land, “Goodbye,” brings forth a beautiful message to her older self, letting her know about her individual growth as an artist and person. This is evident with the control she had on this album, like she did with Froot.
Through its ups and its downs, Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land brings unique perspectives and less-fraught production to deliver a mesmerizing, albeit flawed, pop album that shines like the album cover. It has its moments in the sun and catches you with unique melodies and harmonies you’ll find yourself coming back a bit frequently.