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Marina Allen

About this Artist

A new Marina Allen album comes like the first day of Spring. The sky has blued; a clear air descends. Through the green fuse drives a flower. Across two introductory records, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has ripened a rare harvest, but her third studio album is an arrival home. Taking fragments and stories from Marina’s past, Eight-Pointed Star deftly weaves together a new future, in what feels for all the world like a glittering, clear-eyed modern classic of alternative folk and Americana.

“As much as you can have will and ambition,” she says, “those things often get in the way of a fluidity to life, and where you’re supposed to be. You can make yourself dizzy wanting to be somewhere you’re not. My first album, Candlepower, had this sparkly energy around it – I think of it very fondly. With Eight-Pointed Star I’m trying to harness that beginner’s mind again, while having the scars and wisdom that come from biting into the fruits of knowledge.” 

Growing up in New Jersey on the East Coast, and then moving to California at the age of ten, Allen’s primary musical education was spent singing in community churches and school choirs. Her affection runs deepest for singers who in her words can really sing, from The Roches to Karen Dalton, Joanna Newsom to Meredith Monk. But these influences vanish like ghosts in the attic when she starts to sing herself. Allen has a voice that stands up to the canon – inimitable – and it’s never sounded more resolute than it does here. Her songs hold a dynamism that conjure distinctive worlds of their own.

The eponymous eight-pointed star welcomes an assembly of images. This is an album about discovery, searching with the eight points of a compass; about hope, gazing at the emanations within the eight points of a North Star; and about ancestry, being comforted by the eight-pointed stitching patterns used in quilt-making. There’s more writing here about love than in any of her previous work, and trying to understand it in its fullest sense. 

Trust is the centrifuge around which themes of love, family and folklore unfurl. Rolling guitars rise and fall with the canyons and dust is kicked-up from the red scarred earth. With it, an inexplicable calm settles over these nine songs, Allen’s vocals pure and crystalline. The instrumentation is rich, bursting with brightness. In its most celestial moments, slide guitar drifts over acoustic thrums, and perfectly realized accounts of love and trust feel as true as the ground they’re walking on. 

Lead single ‘Red Cloud’ embodies the patchwork approach, written about her mother’s family in the Nebraskan prairies, named after the small town and birthplace of writer Willa Cather (whose writing about coming-of-age artistry inspired Allen to get a tattoo of a lark, aged 17). Her voice ducks and dovetails, wavering to speech when she sings of being made coffee and burnt bread. The great plains she paints are barren and desolate, but fertile in her mind. It’s the place from where her sense of identity originates; here, she cherry-picks stories from dreamlike panoramas, crafting her own false histories, the truth caught somewhere in between.

“The imagery surrounding Nebraska has always been really vivid for me. My mom would tell me about how my Grandma would ride a pony to school named Daisy. I guess it brought an awareness of how much the world has changed in such a short time, but it also really tripped me out as a kid,” she laughs. “We’d be watching the Wizard of Oz and I felt like Dorothy was my heritage. So much of your family narrative defines who you are, and so much of it isn’t true, or you hear it wrong, or you only pick up this one part, passed down by somebody else who only picked up one part. I wanted to play with that. I had all of these images swirling around me, with me at the center, and none of the sources were reliable.”

‘Bad Eye Opal’ and ‘Landlocked’ both dig into the same mythology, the latter a more resolute call to exploration. “This road was once a river, this home an orange grove,” she sings solemnly above radiant twangs of alt-Americana, “all we have is what we have forgiven”.

The album is full of little, radical acts, coming from a place of truth. ‘Deep Fake’ ties two songs into one: a Noah’s Ark-style paean of love and self-discovery that thunders into the internet age, and the need to confront the parts of our society that make us most uncomfortable. It struggles to call them sacred – “love is sitting in your beloved’s loneliness and letting it be,” Allen sings, next door to digitized avatars in a waiting room.

Storylines jettison and dance through Eight Pointed Star the way sunlight might catch the broken glass of a ransacked liquor store. Within those prisms are songs that sound as old as the earth itself, but they sing of artificial intelligence, watching TV and listening to coyotes harmonizing with car alarms. “Abstraction in lyricism is in crisis,” she says, resolutely. “that inspired me and what I find to be the most powerful in art. But it's a balance of clearly saying the things I want to say, while also listening to what is being said on the fringes of my subconscious. Those thoughts can be elusive and mischievous, but they often hold a truth that literalism can't make out. I'm asking you to listen with me.”

Ineffable and timeless, this collection of songs holds a curiosity that’s as open to you as you are to them. Compared to the soaring and swelling compositions of Allen’s second album Centrifics or the innocent tranquility of Candlepower, the world of Eight Pointed Star is more deeply addressing and open-armed. It favors a type of soul-searching that doesn’t dwell in complications, and is open to answers. You can hear contentment radiating from the music, with Chris Cohen’s production offering a full-band affair. More so now we hear the light gushing through the trees; the present-day sun that glides over both the human joys and anxieties inextricably tied to here and now. 

“There was a sense when I was writing Eight Pointed Star of searching,” she pauses. “Searching is the other side of the quarter when it comes to trust. The way that I write music is fundamentally a trust exercise – allowing your mind to be quiet, seeing what arises and following the flickers. Sitting with that feeling and making it work. I think of songwriting in general as a collage – scrapping together these ideas to create a new whole. But it’s also for looking into the future with this thing that’s supposed to give you… I don’t know, hope.”