Marina Allen Gives Fresh Color to a Steady-Burning Flame on Eight Pointed Star

The Los Angeles singer-songwriter’s sunny, loping third album presents songs that challenge you if you’re really paying attention, a treat for any who favor a close-read of lyrics over passive listening.

Music Reviews Marina Allen
Marina Allen Gives Fresh Color to a Steady-Burning Flame on Eight Pointed Star

Marina Allen’s third album, Eight Pointed Star, gently stretches past the scope of her earlier works, settling into a wider expanse colored by sun-faded scenes and hard-earned wisdom. Weaving Americana mythology with sprawling folk-rock arrangements, Allen points her arrow towards clarity on the new record, dealing in abstraction and lore as much as she does personal narrative and introspection. Eight Pointed Star is a sonic relic of springtime abundance that’s propelled by Allen’s myth-making and a croon that rings with a startling clarity and subtle power. The spark she lit with her 2021 debut, Candlepower—and maintained on 2022’s Centrifics—has been harnessed into a deeply substantive, steady-burning flame on her latest work, while finding another fresh angle to approach the ever-evolving but sometimes overdone folk nostalgia.

The rolling verses of “Red Cloud” point to presence and contemplation, while keeping the listener rapt with intriguing phrasing as Allen paints vignettes of her mother’s childhood town between the rich flutterings of strings. That phrasing is the same kind of incantation that carries “Deep Fake,” which comes together and unravels with a distended refrain of the song’s title and a bevy of cultural references. “From Bitches Brew to Antigone, from stagecoach to battery, a dormant, dominant energy,” Allen sings. “The two eyes I watch fall asleep, as innocent as sexuality, the flame that lights up the other flame, radiate then draw the circle.” It’s the kind of song that only challenges you if you’re really paying attention, a treat for any who favor a close-read of lyrics over passive listening.

On “Swinging Doors,” Allen captures the loping, breezy sounds of Laurel Canyon. It’s a sunny but loosely plaintive reflection on movement and change–be it spiritual or physical–that balances the coin of good and bad perfectly on its side. That kind of unease runs like a golden thread throughout the record, where the domestic sits at the edge of the pastoral as “coyotes sing with car alarms” on “Landlocked” and Allen is “forced to forge my own Spring” on “Deep Fake.” It’s a tension between the past and the “new normal” that emerges as the world is irrevocably changed that also stands as an allegory for personal growth. Through life we are made new again and again, and that’s something Allen knows well—“Saying I’ve changed like it’s a bad thing / I’d do it all over to get to this place,” she sings on album closer “Between Seasons.”

Coming together in the same hand-picked nature of the quilt pattern that shares its namesake, Eight Pointed Star is an album of hope, perspective, vast imagery and memory that’s full of easy-listens. It’s sweet, but not overtly frothy or heady, a steadiness owed partly to the dual presence of fear and curiosity that’s felt throughout Allen’s work. Of this duality, she says that “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.”

Balancing her folksy Californian lushness with airy minimalism, the nine tracks on Eight Pointed Star reveal a nuanced terroir, inspired as much by the chilling effect of rapid industrialization of the last two centuries as it is by the idyllic warmth of artists like the Roaches, Joanna Newsom or Karen Dalton. Marina Allen approaches songwriting with one foot planted firmly in the present and one in the past, nodding to both the eerie advances of the modern world and the emotional and narrative contours of her own past through a sepia tinge.

Emma Bowers is a musician, writer and textile artist currently living in Portland, Oregon. Her written work includes pieces for NPR, The Alternative, Slumber and NYLON. In addition to work across the music industry, she regularly shares thoughts and curated playlists in her newsletter Blue Hour.

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