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HomeMusicMarina Allen – Eight Pointed Star (Album Review)

Marina Allen – Eight Pointed Star (Album Review)

Sometimes, amidst the kaleidoscopic pleasures of new music in all its various and often esoteric forms, it can be easy to forget the apparently simple pleasure of an album of very good songs by a talented singer songwriter. Luckily, we have a few artists – Adrianne Lenker and Julie Byrne spring to mind – who can claim to combine a gift for songcraft with something approaching lyrical genius. With her second album, Eight Pointed Star, Marina Allen adds herself with a quiet kind of confidence to that rarefied group.

Candlepower (2021) and Centrifics (2022) saw an emerging artist trying on different guises, sometimes in the span of a single song, and usually with great success. The former channelled Simon and Garfunkel and Kate Bush while Celadon, which opened Centrifics, skated from Julia Holter-esque experimental chamber pop to classic country rock in a mere three minutes. Eight Pointed Star is more centred, more focused. Lead single Red Cloud is both tightly controlled and cinematic. The care and attention Allen brings to a single word – the word ‘red’ in Red Cloud’s chorus, for example – might recall the vocal contortionism of Joanna Newsom, but Allen’s singing, however melodically unconventional, always seems to serve a more classical kind of song structure. She flourishes on the tension between the moment of unconventionality and the intimate, poppy brevity of the whole.

The album’s opening song, I’m The Same, takes a familiar-sounding set of chords and turns it into something thoroughly surprising, thanks to a knack for pretty but sharp lyricism and a seemingly innate ability to leave space in a song for delicate instrumental passages to make themselves heard. She talks about the age-old subjects of love and loss with a wonderful freshness. Deep Fake moves deftly from intimate meditations on love to references to Miles Davis and classical Greek drama, and Easy connects the quotidian minutiae of a normal relationship with concepts of infinity. It’s not short on playfulness either: Allen skillfully slips a palindrome into a verse that reads like a beguiling list-poem.

As individual as her songwriting may be, Allen is not afraid to credit her influences. She mentions The Roches and Liz Phair, and there is also a hint of Court and Spark-era Joni Mitchell in places like the wandering melodies and loping bassline in Red Cloud. On Swinging Doors, she embraces upbeat pop-rock with driving percussion and crunches of guitar, while Love Comes Back barrels along jauntily then stops itself in its tracks as if to remind itself of some simple, elemental truth. The pace slows on Landlocked, where Tim Ramsey’s yearning pedal steel provides a heartfelt accompaniment. Bad Eye Opal is an impressionistic character study with some unorthodox vocal phrasing that recalls Laura Marling or Cate Le Bon. Across the album, surprising but ultimately rewarding musical choices play out: Odessa Jorgensn’s violin and Andrew Dorsett’s piano pop up, sometimes unexpectedly, to add a new dimension to a song.

Despite their apparent simplicity, these songs are deeper than they first seem. They are sometimes like Russian dolls and sometimes like narratives woven onto tapestries, existing within each other or in service to each other’s ideas. If there is a tension here between pop music structures and unconventional lyrics, there is perhaps another, more important (though related) tension, one which Allen recognises: that between clarity and abstraction, between saying clearly what you want to say and saying it how you want to say it. On Eight Pointed Star, she has struck the perfect balance, fabricating a beautifully coherent but mysterious collection of songs that exist on the blurred edges of folk, country and pop. 

Eight Pointed Star (7th June 2024) – Fire Records.

Order Eight Pointed Star: https://marinagallen.bandcamp.com/album/eight-pointed-star

Upcoming Live Dates

Thu. June 13 – Los Angeles, CA @ Scribble

Wed. June 19 – New York, NY @ Union Pool

Fri. June 21 – London, UK @ The Slaughtered Lamb

Mon. June 24 – Cirkus, Stockholm, Sweden w/ Ben Howard  

Tue. June 25 – Sentrum Scene, Oslo, Norway w/ Ben Howard 

Wed. June 26 – DR Koncerthusets, Copenhagen, Denmark w/ Ben Howard 

Sat June 29 – De Vereeniging, Nijmegen, Netherlands w/ Ben Howard             

Sun. June 30 – SPOT / De Oosterpoort, Groningen, Netherlands w/ Ben Howard 

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