Picking over the bones of her recent musical fascinations, East End multi-instrumentalist Marika Hackman has chosen some daunting works to tackle on this selection of sombre interpretations, from miserablist troubadors such as Elliott Smith, Sharon Van Etten and Edith Frost to the hyper gloss blast of Grimes, MUNA and Beyoncé.
Similar to the timeless folk of her debut We Slept At Last, with dashes of the downtempo echo chamber pop found on the first The xx record, the adoption of low energy, skeletal electronic instrumentation serves to shine a light on her often brittle and vocoder cloaked vocals. A sensation of emotional fatigue circles above proceedings, as the music elicits the haunting effect that this ongoing lack of human intimacy is having on all of our psyches.
She tentatively commences with a sliver of Radiohead, but rather than going for something predictable, say Creep or No Surprises, she diverts away and instead tackles You Never Wash Up After Yourself, a lesser known B-side to the band’s My Iron Lung single. Laced with claustrophobia, and awash with sound effects of houseflies hovering around decay, the cynical lyric grapples with the burden of domestic resentment that tends to build up when people find themselves confronted with interpersonal laziness, a theme that extends across the entire record.
Flies appear again on the lyrics to her bare bone interpretation of The Shins’ sapphic teenage ballad Phantom Limb that finds Hackman dampening James Mercer’s jauntily festive original with minimal drum rhythms. Keeping with the lusty adolescent theme, we get a pass at Air’s Playground Love from The Virgin Suicides soundtrack. Stripped of the clinking wine glass keys and Burt Bacharach strings that held the Parisian duo’s version together, we have a dejected chilly Hackman deep in retrospective mode. Covering Grimes’ Realiti she dispenses with the Canadian aesthete’s kinetic chipmunk delivery, bringing out the dread inherent in the songs lyric as the narrator deals with their proximity to death: “When we were young, we used to live so close to it, and we were scared and we were beautiful.”
By far the sweetest moment on the record is her acoustic guitar take on Elliott Smith’s Between The Bars. Hackman casts herself as the guiding force for some poor lost soul, reminding them she’ll take care of “the things you could do, you wont but you might, the potential you’ll be, that you’ll never see”. It’s some much needed respite on an album that threatens to sink into self-pity. Thankfully it concludes with the redemptive, and perhaps singularly optimistic section, Hackman’s version of All Night from Beyoncé’s 2016 visual album Lemonade.
Where everyone remembers Formation as that album’s key track, Hackman instead takes solace in this number, which addresses familial discontent, regrowth and synchronicity. Removing the track’s foghorn operatics, it finds her isolated vocals accompanied by new voices as broken beats and surges of sound bubble up. Recalibrating her response to a previously dour environment, it shows a renewed commitment to the development of her practice. No longer tethered by emotional conflicts or physical confinement, it offers us all a glimmer of temporary hope.