Album Review: Marika Hackman – We Slept At Last

By on Friday, 13th February 2015 at 12:00 pm

Marika Hackman We Slept At Last coverMarika Hackman’s highly-anticipated debut album ‘We Slept At Last’ marks another mutation in the singer/songwriter’s ever-evolving folk sound. Clearly honed by her three previous EPs ‘That Iron Taste’, ‘Sugar Blind’ and ‘Deaf Heat’, the songs on ‘We Slept At Last’ are ethereally poetic and graced by sonic subtlety rather than overwrought vocals and instrumentation. While the thematic material in Hackman’s lyrics has remained largely static, particularly the pervasive imagery of washing oneself clean, her musical interpretation has grown into a naturally refined elegance that perfectly suits the timbre of her singing voice.

Hackman sings in a clear, unadulterated tone, which is both beautifully evocative and completely devoid of the odd stylistic affectations that so many female singers adopt. She has found the sweet spot between pure lyricism and emotional effectiveness, both in her declamatory spoken register and her higher, more legato vocal tones. Like Hackman’s singing voice, the songs on ‘We Slept At Last’ are nebulous and elusive, defying the confines of structure without completely losing their form. These are vague impressionistic images rather than concrete graphic shapes, but they nonetheless leave a distinct and haunting emotional imprint.

The album opens with ‘Drown’, which we have already featured in this earlier single review. Hackman’s stark, spine-chilling lyrics are accompanied by a haunting guitar line and echoing backing vocals that set the mood for the entire tracklisting. Her delicately whispered vocals on ‘Before I Sleep’ combine with lilting instrumental lines reminiscent of a lullaby, but the minor key harmony is dark and slightly ominous as Hackman intones, “I foresee this ending in a shower of flame”.

Whether or not “We Slept At Last’ is an autobiographical break-up album, the songs unambiguously echo the pain of a lost love. The slightly brighter color of ‘Ophelia’ is marked by the warmth of an acoustic guitar along with mesmerising synths and a shuffling drumbeat, yet the lyrics maintain a somber mood: “She who walks alone in life / she by herself / we are only as old as we’ve been told / and I’m not ready for the shelf”.

The stark simplicity of mid-album tracks ‘Skin’ and the tastefully concise ‘Claude’s Girl’, whose simple minor key melody and slow waltz tempo bring to mind the veiled emotion of French chanson, is contrasted by the broad dynamic intensity of current single ‘Open Wide’, which you can stream below. ‘Animal Fear’ is also immediately energetic, with a hypnotic tribal rhythm and the visceral lyrics “I can see the doubt in your eyes / I can smell the animal fear”.

The minor key harmonies and triplet subdivisions found in many of the songs do border on monotonous toward the end of the album, but Hackman’s delicate vocals and austere instrumental arrangements highlight a few interesting moments, particularly the strident percussion of ‘Undone, Undress’ and the dramatic woodwind melody in ‘Next Year’. Hackman saves her most striking poetry and some of her best singing for final track ‘Let Me In’, where she elegantly drawls the lines “grey, charcoal blue stretched across the sky this lonely night / leaves footprints in my shoes / wanders through my bed / strokes my paper face and combs my hair / speaking silent words with hands instead”.

Atmospheric and brooding, ‘We Slept At Last’ strikes a finely tuned balance between shrouded mystery and emotional density. On this remarkably sophisticated debut, Hackman has found a style that matches her beautiful singing voice, favouring grace and finesse over brute emotional force.


Marika Hackman’s debut album ‘We Slept At Last’ is due for release next Monday, the 16th of February, on Dirty Hit Records. Hackman will be touring the UK this spring with a newly formed live band; you can find a listing of live dates here.

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