There’s a distance to Marika Hackman’s delivery. Separated from folk’s traditions - and its present day characters - instead of following a parade, she’s more likely to be found building a house of her own in the darkest corner of the woods. A tiny, isolated space will do - all she needs is a box of matches for the fire, a notebook and her trusty guitar. Debut full-length ‘We Slept At Last’ follows years of gradual build-up and two promising EPs. What emerges is a first work defined by its own, unique sense of being. Still barely into her twenties, Hackman’s found her own voice, sitting neatly outside of the norm.
The distance she keeps arrives in a style of singing that resolutely sticks to the downbeat. Instead of swerving round melodic feats, she’ll often be found treading around the same territory, sometimes following just one single note that sinks into deep nothingness. The record’s opening pairing, ‘Drown’ and ‘Before I Sleep’, are a pitch-black shade of dark, a hopeless cause reminiscent of winter’s biggest trace; dead leaves, a biting chill that threatens to never leave. A simple comparison is Noah and the Whale’s ‘First Day of Spring’, a folk record that wallows in its own harsh misery with a healthy supply of bonkers thrown in for good measure.
Part of ‘We Slept At Last’’s appeal stems from Hackman’s work with Charlie Andrew, producer for Alt-J’s first two records and the debut of Sivu, another bright hope who features here too, on ‘Skin’. It’s said to be Marika and Charlie’s ethos to never allow one song to sound remotely like the other, and that lends this debut a brilliant sense of adventure. ‘Open Wide’ ditches acoustic hums for grizzly electrics, overlapping guitar lines resembling Warpaint’s hushed dim. It’s here especially that Hackman casts her own spell, vocals diving one step further into the unknown. “What’s your favourite game to play, lying on your back all day?” she asks, daydreaming into the great beyond. Just when the darkness begins to overwhelm and suck out all the joy, like a one-man-mission dementor, in arrives another glimpse of Hackman’s trade. ‘Next Year’’s forest-centred folkery bounds around like a gem from Midlake’s mid-2000s output, while ‘Animal Fear’ boasts the record’s fullest sound, a sadness-lined but ultimately fulfilling shade of new.
Throughout, the Londoner sounds incapable of settling into one given groove, but that’s a positive: If ‘We Slept At Last’ was one great chasm of misery, it’d come across as an act of self-indulgence. Instead, Hackman successfully shifts unhappiness into different territories. She develops under the spotlight, each song adding further fuel to her progression. There’s little doubt that she’s not finished yet - ‘We Slept At Last’ gives hints of an artist who could go on for decades, so long as she continues to transport everyday souls into different worlds.