I first encountered the music of Marika Hackman a few years ago, when she was in Australia to support Laura Marling on her Secret Sounds tour. I had been waiting outside the church where Marling was due to play for hours, determined to get a good spot, and watched with a mixture of irritability and impatience as Hackman took to the stage. After all I was desperate to see Marling, not a slightly nervous young woman holding an electronic guitar I had never heard of before.
But even before Hackman had finished playing her very first song, all my feelings of resentment had disappeared. To say that the young musician blew me away is an understatement. Utterly hypnotic from beginning to end, her set managed to achieve the seemingly impossible: I walked out of the venue more impressed with Hackman, the support, than I did with the artist I had paid the money to see in the first place.
We Slept At Last, Hackman’s debut album, proves what I saw in that church was the real deal, and not just a fluke. Just as she stole the show then, she steals the show now, releasing an album so genuinely powerful – so unbelievably good – that I struggle to imagine a world in which this won’t be the record that catapults her into the fame and success she so clearly deserves.
Hackman’s greatest skill is her ability to mix emotional tones without breaking a sweat: songs like album opener Drown are creepy, dark, and yet eerily beautiful, all at the same time. They create entire worlds of their own, populated by spirits and ghosts, and yet despite their sometimes heavy content, they ultimately leave the listener uplifted and empowered.
Whether armed with an acoustic guitar, as on the heartbreakingly beautiful Let Me In, or singing on top of a layered, ominous soundscape, as on Undone, Undress, Hackman demonstrates an impeccable lyrical and emotional control. Already, Hackman has proved herself to be a master of her instruments – her guitar, her words, her voice – and not a single lyric or chord of the album falls flat.
Indeed, it is impossible to talk about We Slept At Last without mentioning her incredible way with words. Like a poet, Hackman molds phrases and choruses so ambiguously touching that they deserve a review all of their own. Even simple turns of phrase like “I’m jealous of your neck”, a line from the powerful Skin, are rich with a dark surrealism that is at once evocative and yet believably grounded in the reality of love, loss and despair.
Whether it be mixing the threat of violence with melodic and lyrical beauty on Animal Fear, or crafting a ballad of as tender, emotional, and yet gently disturbing as Ophelia, Hackman never takes the easy way out. The songs are complex in a way that is immediately gratifying to the listener; tracks like In Words and Monday Afternoon bristle with ambiguity and life. Like a truly important artist, Hackman never underestimates the intelligence of her audience.
Giving an album as good as We Slept At Last a score seems resolutely pointless. Sure, I would give it five stars out of five in a heartbeat, but even perfect marks only hint at the power, weight and importance of this singularly brilliant album. Buy it now: that way you won’t be lying when you tell people in a few years that you liked Hackman before she won her inevitable international acclaim.