Review: Marika Hackman – ‘We Slept At Last’

She’s a bit of a wunderkind, Marika Hackman. The only thing more obvious than her raw, sugary voice, gothic-inspired harmonies and chiming guitar is her good sense and maturity. This debut album has been a long time coming, but the 22-year-old Londoner knew when she was ready.

“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,” Hackman said a year ago. Twelve months on and the album, We Slept At Last, is quite simply beautiful.

Hackman delivers everything with distance. Unlike many British folk artists, whose slightly twee lyrics and melodies attach themselves to you, this is grown-up and introspective. Yes, she bears similarity to fellow folk singer Laura Marling, with whom Hackman toured Australia in 2013. Both outstanding young songwriters more pensive and brooding than outwardly emotional, their music becomes more expressive in its self-reflection.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its “catchy” songs. Through the slightly Gothic harmonies and organ drones come playful, light melodies that will stick with you for their cleverness. It’s the contrast between light and dark that makes the album feel so mature, and genuinely fascinating. Standout track Monday Afternoon, about a girl who gets killed and dumped in a forest by her lover (just your cheery everyday ditty, really), has stunningly airy, flitting chorus vocals above panpipes and dark strings that really couldn’t be more perfect.

Producer Charlie Andrew, who’s helmed records by Alt-J and Sivu (who appears on this album), has done Marika many favours. Though the songs are wonderfully written, they are crafted into outstanding gems through Andrew’s balance. He adds a softness to her darker tracks, especially in comparison to Hackman’s EPs.

Every song on We Slept At Last is vastly different — some totally acoustic, some rounded, indulgent twangs of electric guitar, and some filled and layered with keyboards and organ sounds. Hackman definitely has growing to do from here – while the album has a distinct identity, she’ll continue to refine it – but growing can only be a very, very good thing with a debut album of such high calibre.

No doubt catapulting her to high-profile support and headline slots this year (as if supporting Alt-J wasn’t big enough), her recorded sound is complemented beautifully by her stage presence – at ease, cheerfully humble and hardworking. Marika Hackman is undoubtedly one of 2015’s biggest names to watch.

‘We Slept At Last’ is out now via Sony Music.

Watch: Marika Hackman – Animal Fear

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