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Album Review: ‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’ takes on an ecofeminist lens

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After taking a break from the music industry to pursue psychology at the University of London in 2019, Marina Diamandis — formerly Marina and the Diamonds — has focused her energy on exploring society’s most critical issues through an ecofeminist lens. Marina recently returned to the music scene with her album “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land,” which dropped in June. 

This album represents Marina’s embrace of herself, the realization of her inner strength after trying different paths and taking a detour from the industry. She herself characterizes “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land” as her best album. 

The album’s title track “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land” is a logical song to prepare the fans for the main theme of the album: being yourself no matter what. The robotic dance tunes create a harmony with Marina’s operatic soft voice that gets higher within the chorus. A pandemic that made everyone focus on themselves while being stuck in their homes also inspired Marina to “take a look inside herself” and decide her main theme,  captured by the lyrics “You don’t have to be like everybody else/ You don’t have to fit into the norm/ You are not here to conform.” The track’s self-embracing message, colorful theme and robotic beats conspire to evoke an ’80s disco party.

Marina continues with a sassy song, “Venus Fly Trap,” in which she calls Hollywood out for its unreachable standards after she released her first album “The Family Jewels” in 2010 and got harsh expressions towards her nationality background (half-Greek, half-Welsh) and her different music style — she focused more on the lyrics rather than the tunes, which seems to be not that common. “Venus Fly Trap” creates hype with the spotty notes of Marina, piano chords and punchy drums. After distancing herself from the entertainment industry and public eye, Marina is congratulating herself for following her own path and loving herself without listening to the unpleasant comments towards her in the past.

“I’ve carried a lot of shame in my life that didn’t belong to me, and I’ve only recently really been able to liberate myself from that. As a result, I’ve been able to look at my career and feel proud of the fact that I haven’t had to compromise that much,” Marina told Vogue about her career and the meaning behind the song.

From an ecofeminist lens, Marina felt the need to stand her musical ground with regard to the long-standing dominance of men and how women and LGBTQ+ individuals have been subjugated and discriminated against throughout history. This inspired her to write “Man’s World.”

“Femininity has been such a negative trait for so long. It’s shameful to be feminine, whether you’re a man or woman. That’s dating back hundreds of years, and I think it’s really to the detriment of society because we’ve all had to try and be more masculine in order to succeed or to be accepted,” Marina told Vogue about writing the track.

I feel like this song is very inspiring and indeed nodded to the people who also feel the same way as Marina. In “Man’s World” production, Marina only hired women who represent what she talked about in the song and tried to give them a chance to show their abilities in a male-dominant industry. Also, the slow tunes but not boring pace made the track more natural and sincere.

In “Purge the Poison” and “New America,” Marina combines her pop culture awareness with social injustices around the world, such as seeking justice for Britney Spears, capitalism, the #MeToo movement, America’s stolen land and systemic racism. She told Vogue that her main inspiration for writing “New America” was the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Her decision to make these two songs with a fast and furious pace, led by drums and electronic guitar, clarified their meaning. However, incorrectly stressed syllables in the pre-chorus of “Purge the Poison” made it a bit hard to listen to without irritation.

“Flowers,” “I Love You But I Love Me More,” “Highly Emotional People” and “Pandora’s Box” chronicle a past relationship, probably a toxic one, and Marina’s realization that the relationship was no longer worth her time and sadness. These are slower tracks relative to the first half of the LP, with euphonious piano and softer melodies. Even if the songs are related to the theme of the album, I think the album would have felt more sonically coherent if these songs were energetic as well, because the album tells world and relationship issues in a sassy and funny way when they are supposed to be tragic. It would have been better if she chose fast rhythms. 

The last track of the album, “Goodbye,” feels like a possible heartbreak song, but I believe it’s more of a goodbye song to the artist’s younger self and even her career. In the context of Marina’s long-standing musings about a possible early retirement and on the heels of an industry break, “Goodbye”’s melancholic tunes and high notes make “the goodbye” even more powerful. It is a great song to close the album with a softer, melancholic song after cheering us throughout the whole album. 

Thematically, “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land” speaks truth and touches upon the critical issues of the world that need to be resolved immediately. Originally, Marina wanted to work on her feminine side on the album and I think she reached her goal with mellisonant harmonic tunes. We hear her softer, more operatic, charming voice and high notes that excite the listener just in time. 

Changing her style in every album has definitely made Marina more creative and confident about herself. Asked about finding her “one genre,” Marina told Vogue, “I’ve done something different each record, so I feel that maybe my identity as an artist is about my lyrics, really — it’s not so much about the production. Who knows what I’m gonna do next!” This album proves that Marina isn’t a girl that just wants the whole world for herself, but to change the problems in it and break the walls for the betterment of future generations. 

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Aslıhan Alp is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.