7/10 Every city contains a myriad of stories, some precious and some grim. In her third album, Felony Flats, Anya Marina transports listeners onto the streets of Portland, Oregon, exploring the underbelly of her new new neighbourhood. Felony Flats is an area of the city lined with dive bars and crumbling bodegas, marked by an intangible darkness that Marina captures with wispy lyrics and gritty guitar. Her success in conveying the subdued gloom of the place is not surprising considering that Marina wrote the songs while “walking every day for miles and miles… surrounded by images, trees, people, and streets,” and she has since likened the album to Wes Anderson’s ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ in terms of its tone and ennui.
The album’s shadowy nature is evident in both its instrumentation and words, from the heavy, rumbling guitar of ‘Nothing To Go On’ (performed by Cody Votolato of Blood Brothers / Telekinesis) to the loneliness conveyed in the lyrics of ‘Destroy Everything’. Felony Flats veers away from the saccharine sentimentality of 2009’s Slow & Steady Seduction, Phase II, treading into riskier territory and dipping into the sultry, come-hither lyrics of ‘Hot Button’ and ‘Body Knows Best’. Marina’s songs run the gamut, capturing a wide range of sonic stories from the spare but ominous ‘Believe Me I Believe’ to the dancefloor rock of ‘Body Knows Best’.
Despite her subject matter, certain songs manage to maintain some more endearing qualities. ‘Notice Me’ is further evidence of Marina’s capacity for a strong pop melody, while her layered lyrics ensure the song doesn’t spiral into sappy banalities. “I wonder if you notice me / I’m the one in your bed,” she sings, giving a rich twist to the plot of a typical high school love story. Not every track is as successful at avoiding triteness. Marina’s words are, at times, burdened with clichés. In ‘You Are Invisible’ she falls flat with mixed metaphors, singing “It’s like the sound of a drone / coming through a telescope,” while in ‘Heart Stops’ she is swept up in mushy teenage romance with phrases like “I fell in love with everything, the stars, the sea, the moon” – stale images that contrast starkly with the vivid pictures conveyed on other tracks.
These occasional lapses notwithstanding, the stories Marina conveys are generally compelling. The protagonists in her songs are astute women attuned to their own needs and to the emotions of those around them. Whether they are dancing with a lover or gazing at the cosmos, their powerful introspections pull listeners into the vibrant world of Felony Flats.