At 23, English songwriter Marika Hackman is already a brilliant enigma. For someone with a fairy-tale face, and a celestial voice, Hackman seems disinterested in writing music in line with her angelic appearance. In live videos, she awkwardly mumbles her way through introductions before getting to what she really cares about – her carefully crafted, molten brand of English folk. In our age of “sex sells,” it’s clear that Hackman wants her music to stand on its own merit, far removed from the beauty of its creator (who, some years ago, was approached to model for Burberry). Her lyrics say it better than I can: “I was raised with my face to the skies / But I was not a heavenly child / Savage, with a temperament wild.” There is rich conflict here, and genuine emotional depth.
We Slept at Last is her debut LP, released earlier this year after a string of earlier EP’s. Alt J’s Charlie Andrew produced We Slept (which is abundantly clear from songs like Monday Afternoon); mostly, though, Hackman shines, as does the lucid melancholy of her music. While I’d highly recommend getting your hands on the Deluxe Version of We Slept (at nearly 30 songs), I’ll limit this review to the Standard Version – which is wonderful on its own. Its single, “Animal Fear,” is as lush as it is charming, while its lyrics pack a subtle, blood-soaked punch. Claude’s Girl (a nod to Claude Debussy) is Hackman at her best: just a plucked acoustic and her otherworldly cooing. And while Hackman has called the song a “lullaby,” lines like “The flies on my walls, they’re silent/ But the swarm in my head is a hell” certainly thicken the plot. Ophelia is another gem, and a nod to Shakespeare: effortless and divine.
We Slept At Last is best condensed by the opening lyrics to Skin, the album’s gorgeous fifth song: “I’m jealous of your neck/ That narrow porcelain plinth of flesh / It gets to hold your head / And I’d rather perform the task instead/ I’ll use my hands.” For here, we see the two poles of Hackman’s project. Does she yearn to hold, and gently touch her lover’s face? Or, like Perseus, does she hold up the severed head as a trophy, in some sort of awful pride? This sinister, inflamed gentleness is the heart of Hackman’s album – and a rich ambiguity throughout. Skin also points to the album’s obsessive physicality – Hackman sings again and again (and again) about the body – about skin, hair, teeth, bones, heads. And if Hackman’s writing has a weakness, it is this obsession. For it’s one thing to develop a theme, but it’s another thing to dwell, and linger. That is to say, Hackman’s bodily malaise borders on becoming repetitive – but this is only a small blemish on an otherwise glowing effort.