At just under 20 minutes, Californian Marina Allen’s debut album is an elevator pitch in brilliant marketing. You think you know where you are – Karen Carpenter? Joni Mitchell? – and then you’re thrown to a place that is slightly to the left of standard reality; Allen may take influence from folk and pop juggernauts of the ’70s, but she has her own established style on this debut. It makes for a captivating listen, as you watch Allen twist potent music influences.
The record flits quickly through its tracks, all of them touching upon searching for a place in the world. It’s fitting for a debut album, but Allen gives an authentic and mythologised kick to the age-old trope: “How do we go through hell and then just go to bed”? she questions in Original Goodness, a track that is as sweet as a summer breeze. It’s almost hypnotic.
Most noticeable is the songwriter’s penchant for lyrical weaving, with the seven songs on this album in dialogue with one another in a way that captures most attention on a second listen. Belong Here – fiery and featuring half-synthesized instrumental – is embedded with a psychedelic charm that is matched lyrically in Original Goodness, whilst the theme of nature is explored throughout, so much so that the woodsy, folktale feel is visually clear for any listener. Allen doesn’t just discuss how to find a place in the world, however, but also how to feel at home with yourself, and Ophelia, a feminist essence on the album, is one of the standout tracks both lyrically and sonically; full of wordless wails that truly are evocative of the tragic character, contrasted against snarky lyrics full of “teenage attitude”.
This is a quiet album, simmering with authenticity and potential. Oh, Louise, one of the singles, is the perfect introduction to this brief, but charming, record – an example of how Allen’s quiet addition to the folk scene doesn’t lack strength. This track is a slow, breathy number, with falsetto murmurs over a subtle guitar that feels at first quaint, relaxing, and unobtrusive but powers up halfway through, full of confidence. Sleeper Train is similarly pretty but powerful, reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac with a touch of Laura Nyro, it’s an eerily nostalgic track that doesn’t seem quite well-placed in any genre, but is exquisitely fitting for the dreamscape Allen weaves.
The one downside with Candlepower is that it is far too short – you want to watch the candle burn right down, and we only get a flicker. What we do hear, however, is tantalising and an ode to reinvention. “Don’t you wanna drive around with me?/Listening to Hejira through a blown-out freedom scheme?” Allen questions, seeming full of wonder. And it’s true. We do.