Marika Hackman first came to FRUK’s attention in late 2012, when we tuned into the splendour of her intervolving harmonies on ‘You Come Down’. The Hampshire-born songwriter then released an EP of free covers in January 2013, the mini-album, ‘That Iron Taste’ in February and finally the psychedelic-leaning ‘Sugar Blind EP’ in December. After that I think it’s safe to say we were suitably smitten. Now with the release of her stunning official debut We Slept At Last, Hackman has surpassed our expectations and delivered a genre-defying record that ventures off – exposed, wounded yet unafraid – into the treacherous territory of carnal hunger, animalistic power and dazed disorder.
Hackman’s ‘Free Covers EP’ and early singles had all the indicators of an extremely promising artist. In fact those six covers, if we include ‘81’ off the ‘Sugar Blind EP’ and ‘I Follow Rivers’ from ‘Deaf Heat EP’, inform most of the musical direction on ‘We Slept At Last’. The gutsy grunge of Nirvana, the artful, dream pop haze of Warpaint, the composed cool of Nico and the delicate, acid-folk eccentricities of Joanna Newsom; as each influence coalesces it draws Hackman further away from any ‘nu-folk’ snap-judgements.
Each EP has clearly marked an evolution in Hackman’s craft, however on ‘We Slept At Last’ we see her go beyond simple pastiche. Successfully she manages to exude a similar sense of reserve, artistic awareness and self-empowerment as tour-buddy, Laura Marling without riding on her coattails.
‘We Slept At Last’ opens with the queasy, interplanetary synth line of ‘Drown’. A spectral vocoder effect haunts Hackman’s vocals throughout the verses and by the chorus, as dark and light textures collide, a numbing sense of unease sets in. Only to lift for the coursing drums and pitch-shifting bass of the following verse. Influenced by the Robert Frost poem ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’, ‘Before I Sleep’ follows with a languished delivery and adrift-electro feel akin to that of indie-folk act Daughter.
‘Ophelia’ unfurls from a captivating ditty into a Massive Attack-induced folktronica piece, influenced by The Handsome Family’s, ‘Far From Any Road’, which opens the equally brooding ‘True Detective’ series. Referencing the doomed ‘Ophelia’ of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, Hackman again uses darker lyrical themes to draw in the listener. As witnessed by the suffocating symbolism of ‘Drown’, each song on the album manages to flit from one foreboding fear to another.
On the scolding, grunge-charged track ‘Open Wide’ we hear Hackman sing “I watched you from the bed, putting on your face. A child in a mask. A child”. Whilst on ‘Skin’ – with its eerie relation to Radiohead’s ‘Exit Music (For A Film) – we eavesdrop on Marika’s strange and singular expressions of affection, “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”.
Part of the allure of ‘We Slept At Last’ is how well the contrasting elements combine to work together as a whole. The arresting anatomical imagery would seem gory and inescapably gloomy if not for the stunning manner in which it was sung. Her vocal delivery is equally fiery and intense as it is delicate and soothing. It feels like grittiness and innocence brawling head-to-head, celebrating imperfection and vulnerability.
The lullaby lilt of ‘Claude’s Girl’ and later the lush Vashti Bunyan inspired song ‘Monday Afternoon’ immediately strike one as more folk-focused. They calmly glide by as if they’re lingering clouds, which are broken only by flickers of sunshine, provided by instances like the gorgeous ascending melody line of “follow the road”. Then the wistful dilruba and seringue drones of ‘Monday Afternoon’ are followed by the chilling, draining yawn of ‘Undone, Undress’ which hobbles into view on bloody and broken limbs. Dark hours set in and from the shadows Hackman utters, with the masochistic cool of PJ Harvey:
“Let’s undress, I don’t want you to heal me
Rather take this broke machine
Hold me close, this beast I’ve burdened
I can’t sing in the morning light
I’ll be here when you can’t breathe
Waiting patient, silently”
Even the records standout single, ‘Animal Fear’ on the surface seems lighthearted as it describes her transformation into a beastly monstrosity. Its certainly more ‘Approachable English Werewolf from Hampshire’ than ‘American Werewolf…’ On the other hand the lyrics still remain perverse, “I’ve been weeping silent like a wound, would you stitch me up or let the blood soak through” and as Glen Erler, Hackman’s collaborating Californian-born photographer speculated, at the core it’s more about the fears and darkness that reside deep within us all.
‘We Slept At Last’ closes with the desolate ‘Let Me In’. Marika’s favourite song lyrically, it ends with no further embellishments than, “I’m a cruel, hard heartland”. The verse before however, concludes with the poignant, “The fire broke apart. We slept at last”, which makes one feel as if the protagonist has truly given in, let go and finally learnt to accept, almost welcome the darkness and the uncertainty it brings. To say it is a warts and all album is an understatement. The flashlight’s glare is upturned and fixed on that frightful grimacing profile we all know only too well. Yet the radiant glow seems to embrace the blemishes and frailties. In fact it goes deeper, to reveal the unpredictable, eccentric and beautiful person hidden behind them.
Review by: David Weir
We Slept At Last is Out Now
Order via Amazon