MARIKA HACKMAN - WE SLEPT AT LAST (DIRTY HIT)
I'm going to begin with a folk antecedent. Shit's about to go off, I'm telling you.
When you first listen to Nick Drake, there doesn’t seem to be much there at all. If the first Drake record you hear is Pink Moon, you’re likely to have one foot out the door before its scant running time has expired. Even when Bryter Later is your record of choice, it’s the string arrangements that hit home first.
But when the rest of it sinks in, you’ll mock your Drake-less self until the day you die. There’s beauty everywhere in those old records, but it’s the cold kind; the kind that you can only observe from a distance for fear of your own safety. If by some chance you move from ‘Northern Sky’ straight to ‘Black Eyed Dog,’ there'll be a shivering warning in your bones.
Marika Hackman probably doesn’t wish for folk antecedents to her debut record, but the chilly path she walks bears the footprints of Drake regardless. When I saw her open for The Antlers last year, I was decidedly underwhelmed. Just her and a guitar, everything seemed slight and unassuming: a little bit one-note.
Two things kept me coming back.
There was utter silence the whole time she was playing. People seemed scared to drink their beer, just in case they made a sound. When a performer commands that sort of attention, to the extent where no one even checks their phone, there’s something good going on. Despite my incredible sadness in anointing a lack of technological interaction as the height of human self-discipline, it’s a fairly reliable indicator.
The lyrics. If you’ve taken the time to think about the words you’re singing, I’ll listen to everything you’ve ever written. Equally, as I wrote when discussing the Smashing Pumpkins, bad vocabulary choices will forever ruin my enjoyment of music. FOREVER. However, Hackman was deftly reciting tales of lycanthropy, disease, rotting flesh and murderous intent with such a detached air that it was impossible to remain disinterested.
We Slept at Last is arrestingly stark, and luxuriates in a state of perpetual unease. Nothing gets out (insert final synonym for cold here). There’s also a mechanical pulse running through the whole thing, despite its foundation of acoustic instruments. Something is wrong, and you feel it all the time. This isn't strictly a folk record, although it does draw from that well, particularly on ‘Monday Afternoon.’ But then Hackman follows up with album highlight ‘Undone, Undress’ and you’re suddenly fucking terrified. Its closest recent relations are probably Daughter’s If You Leave and Snow Ghosts’ A Small Murmuration, and like those records, it’s an arms-length kind of companion. You’ll never get it to open up. As much as you crave a battering, cathartic climax (and you most certainly will), it won't concede.
Which leaves you with some work to do. If that's a personal source of enjoyment for you, shut the door and push play immediately, staring intently at the stunning artwork that extends its hand and brings you in. There's so much that will keep your attention. If you started humming 'Just Hold On, We're Going Home' when I referred to Nick Drake by surname alone, you'll find this record as narcoleptic as its title infers.