We’ve had our eye on Marika Hackman for some time now. Since 2012, to be precise, when we saw her play a spine tingling show in Dalston’s teeny tiny Servant Jazz Quarters, at the launch party for her debut single, You Come Down. Since then we – along with everyone else she’s wooed along the way – have been keenly awaiting her debut long player.
A mini album, That Iron Taste, was released a couple of years ago, and it was really quite special. Warped, hushed vocals that recalled Nico left us hoping for a longer follow up, but she was in no rush. As she told us in an interview in December 2013: “Honestly, I haven’t been ready. I’ve only been doing this for a couple of years and I need to explore my sound, need to go out and play songs over and over to empty rooms, and tour with artists I love and work with different producers, otherwise I think my debut record would sound fairly immature and confused, even.” These words were obviously not flippant, plucked out of the air to respond to a frequently asked question, because finally released 14 months later, We Slept At Last feels like a confident, complete work, that’s definitely very her.
Hackman has spoken out against the early pigeon-holing of her as a ‘kooky folk girl’ – eschewing what could have been a much easier start to her career (Hackman briefly modelled for Burberry and counts Cara Delevinge and Laura Marling as pals) and with her debut, Hackman has established herself as a serious artist; this isn’t easily digestible, fashionable folk – it’s start to finish dark, twisted fairytales that would make Mumford And Sons cower. It has a gorgeous pace that’s absorbing; gentle but sort of magical, like a wander through a dewy forest. But it’s not all spooked accoustics; there are layers of electronic wizardary and crashing cymbals over the top of her light fingered breeze.
While earlier tracks like Bath Is Black, Retina Television and You Come Down were chorus heavy, the 12 new tracks (none of the 13 songs from her EPs have made the cut) that make up the album are perhaps less immediate but ultimately more rewarding. It’s an intriguing collection that gives you something new with each listen.
Take Drown – it’s completely eerie, robotic, with carefully placed electronics. “I’d choke on you if I could…maybe I will” she muses, while Monday Afternoon – a reworked and renamed version of Here I Lie – is perhaps her greatest ambassador. Beautifully eccentric both in lyrics and in its rolling, electro-acoustic composition, it tells the story of a doomed couple: “I have no head, The forest floor is my bed, The leaves I use as a blanket, For my bones are as cold as lead…Lay on your hot bed, Breathe it in, Sickly sweet of my rotting skin…”Claude’s Girl is equally discomforting, but Animal Fear incorporates an almost surf-pop sound. It’s perhaps the record’s most accessible and tuneful track, despite being about resisting becoming a warewolf.
This dark narrative oozes into the record’s artwork too; the physical releases come with a 24-page booklet of images by photographer Glen Erier. Combined, it’s powerful stuff, especially for someone who has no interest in the usual aesthetics of pop. With such eerie stories at her disposal, it’s surprising to see them played by a scruffy 22-year-old, usually in a checked shirt and jeans; it’d be easy to dress up like Patrick Wolf or Bat For Lashes and give people what they probably expect, but as she told us: “When people come to my shows they will see me in the clothes that I have been wearing all day, with no make up on, standing there playing songs that I have written sitting on my bed at home. I’ve spent hours crafting and perfecting these songs so why would I want to distract from them? That’s like an artist displaying a painting on a wall which has been smothered in bright pink and orange wallpaper; give me a grey wall any day.”
Like Hackman herself, this first outing is subtle, but somehow it packs in drama and poetry in a way that’s tender yet fascinating. It’s been well worth the wait.