As a brief preface to this review, I have got to admit: I was very tempted to not submit this piece for publishing and am still a bit hesitant about my decision to have done so.
These are my thoughts because Marika Hackman in general, but this album in particular, simply cannot be described by written words alone. Hailing from England, the young musician is bewitching.
Using severe imagery to evoke feelings of love, Marika Hackman writes her lyrics with an acerbic and clever wit, and accompanies them with instrumental compositions that are mesmerizing in their own right. We Slept At Last, released February 16, 2015, is her debut album and is no exception to this tradition.
A stunning introduction to who she is as an artist, We Slept At Last is made up of twelve tracks, all of which pace, curl, and drift in their own curious ways. While some provide a charming glimpse into Marika Hackman’s tasteful repertoire of inspiration, and others expose her own ruminations about life, all of them seem to express the fact that they are coming from a deeply contemplative and observant individual. In other words, the entire album is marked by Hackman’s visceral presence, one of which is not for the faint of heart.
The first track off of We Slept At Last, as well as the first single that was released from the album, is titled “Drown,” and opens with a swirl of distortion that filters down into Hackman’s delicate yet confident finger picking on the guitar. The verses are pleasant in spite of the song’s grim lyrics, but the heaviness of their meaning soon arrives with the isolation of the chorus in which Hackman sings, “Oh, to drown in your mind / I would, I know I would / To suffocate in your smoke / I’d choke on you if I could / Maybe I will.” Moreover, Hackman self-directs her own (brilliant) music videos, and the video for this track features her in a dark and boundless water dying from forced submersion – adding even more to the fantastic morbidity of it all.
The track “Before I Sleep” was inspired by the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening;” a rather well-suited influence considering both artists’ tendencies to explore relatively dark themes. Like the poem, the song focuses on the notion of “moving on,” but is expressed in a way that emphasizes the maturity of a humble acceptance rather than an upsetting separation. This is largely in part to the soft intricacies of her words and guitar playing, but is also due to the deadpan manner in which she delivers her lyrics. Further, it conveys the sort of nostalgia and grace that I believe characterizes all of her work, but is especially evident in this album.
“Ophelia” is another track that was influenced by renowned literature, for it is a reference to the character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, (the girl who drowns herself in a river after Hamlet rejects to marry her). Similar to Robert Frost’s influence, this bleak tale suits Hackman’s interests and style. The song seems to have been written from Ophelia’s perspective and can be interpreted as a rather poignant vignette of humanity. For example, Hackman sings, “She who walks alone in life is she of sound mind? / I am only as old as I’ve been told / Now I’m playing for time…” and “We don’t know the weight of all the words we say now / In a few more years, with open ears / Would you still say them aloud?” Like many of her songs, the energy and atmosphere created by this track envelops you, encouraging you to slow down and wonder at its unimposing seriousness.
There are a few more songs on the album that allude to Marika Hackman’s influences, including “Claude’s Girl” which is a reference to her favorite Claude Debussy piece, “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair;” and “Open Wide” whose conspicuous baseline is a nice nod to the sounds heard in both Nirvana and Warpaint.
Friend and producer, Charlie Andrews (Alt-j’s main man) worked with Hackman on We Slept At Last. Having worked with Andrews on past EPs such as That Iron Taste (2013), Hackman and he have created some absolutely stunning stuff. Although We Slept At Last meets that same description, its track “Animal Fear” does not necessarily deserve the same sort of awe. Why? Well, relative to the rest of the album the song feels a bit forced. It sounds like Hackman was asked to make at least one radio song and this was it. That said, it is still a great tune that I do indeed like, albeit not for the same reasons I like her other work. Instead, I appreciate the track because it shows that Marika Hackman can venture into virtually any space, be it your shared living room or your very own headphones (the undeniably better option). It is also more upbeat and weird – which I can always appreciate – for the song is about turning into a werewolf and being afraid or yourself during the transformation, i.e. overcoming your inner demons.
The last song on the album is called “Let Me In” and exemplifies Hackman’s effortless folk style as well as the feel of the album as a whole. Drifting in and out like a foggy breeze, the song is the musical manifestation of weariness and is in fact where the album pulls its title.
Furthermore, along with the record, the album was released with a 24-page booklet of photographs shot by one of Hackman’s favorite photographers, Glen Erler. With Hackman as the muse, the photos act as the visual accompaniment to each respective song on the album.
We Slept At Last is Marika Hackman’s debut album and merits its own dimension within the overlapping realms of music and magic. It is indisputably beautiful in both composition and verse, and as a result, it will demand your most sincere attention all the way through.
Rowan Walton | Fervent Listener | KXSU DJ & Promotions Director