Friday 16 April 2021

I'm Not Your Man/ Marika Hackman (2017): Albums of my Life: an A-Z

 ...finding Marika Hackman on Google Music (as it was then) on my phone and apathetically browsing through the new releases thinking: 'I wonder what the kids today are listening to at the moment...' I'm not even that old, but that's the way it had gotten! I saw the cover of Any Human Friend, her latest release at the time (so Summer, 2019), and that album cover grabbed my attention immediately. There was something uncanny about it. Then later I realised that it had been inspired by a photographer called Rineke Dijkstra whose work has always fascinated me. Subconsciously, I must have sensed that this would be something cerebrally worthwhile listening to, something off the beaten track perhaps. It took me a year before I was hooked. A month or so of liking and then loving one song, 'Come Undone'; then more months of walking and digesting and finding that Marika was speaking to me in a way that no female artist had done for some time (and certainly not quite in the same way!) Any Human Friend is an album, for me, about coming to terms with yourself and allowing yourself to accept taboos about the human condition, specifically those attached to being a woman.

The album before this, 'I'm Not Your Man', also explores issues to do with gender and sexuality. I can remember falling in love (again piece by piece, deliciously drip-fed) with this wonderful creation. The track that got me addicted was 'My Lover Cindy' which deserves some focus later in this post.

I've walked many a mile and spent many an hour in the gym with this album in my ears, making me feel strong and empowered. It's not that this is about cliched 'Girl Power' sentiment, it really isn't. This is a young female artist with years of experience in the industry behind her, finding a variation of her sound. Marika's previous releases had been 'softer' sounding and what the industry would label 'folkier'; I'm not Your Man is indie rock with a 90s feel in places. It is self-confident and unafraid of exploring uncomfortable truths whilst also showcasing a jewel of a talent in the industry who should be more well-known, but also sparkles more because she isn't tarred as 'mainstream'.

I truly engaged with 'I'm Not Your Man' during the pandemic which cannot be overlooked. There has been more time for soul-searching, life has been distilled and slowed and I will forever be thankful that Marika's music exists, and existed for me at a time when it has been of immense comfort.

The feel of I'm Not Your Man is rather nostalgic of 90s indie as mentioned above. Marika played with The Big Moon (another great band) on this album and there's a fun, pop element to some songs like 'Boyfriend' and 'My Lover Cindy'. There's also a darker aspect with songs like 'Violet' which provide a sultry vibe, and the final track 'I'd Rather Be With Them' which is intensely sad. 'Apple Tree' is a lovely song more in the vein of Marika's previous soft, acoustic sound. Her voice is unique and also she is somewhat of a chameleon with it: there's an ethereal softness at times which can then turn deeper and more tough-- listen to 'Violet', for example. There's a vocal contrast there between the sweet harmonies and then the very  dark and delicious lyrics, the combined effect is sensual to say the least!

'Time's Been Reckless' is another grower from this album and the backing vocals from The Big Moon add something special to it. Despite the pop-indie chorus, this song is full of shadows, nuance and depth. 'Eastbound Train' is also a stand out for me, perhaps due to watching videos of it live with the chemistry between Marika and The Big Moon making it a joy to watch. The fantastic album artwork, by Tristan Pigott, shows the members of The Big Moon.

The sass of 'Boyfriend' opens the album and there's a persona created there that we see again in parts of 'Any Human Friend' (specifically songs like 'Come Undone'.) The lyric: 'It's fine 'cause I am just a girl/ "It doesn't count"/ He knows a woman needs a man to make her shout' is simultaneously funny and exposing-- exposing of the double standard existent in society that a woman cheating on a man with another woman is fine because some guys think of it as a turn on (ultimately undermining same sex relations.) Then there's the hypocrisy of the whole thing, the idea of a song turning the 'boyfriend' into the villain of the piece? It's a song that makes you smile and think. Marika's songs often feel cryptic; other times they're told through the voice of a character-- not always a likeable one, but a real one.

'My Lover Cindy' is still (and always has been) my absolute favourite track from the album. Similar to 'Boyfriend' the lyrics are not self-complimentary: 'I'm a greedy pig/ I'm gonna get my fill/ I'm gonna keep my eyes on the prize/and I'll suck you dry, I will', but they are what we may have all felt or thought at some point in our lives. What interests me is not always hearing the narrative of love that we're sold as the ideal, but hearing someone sing about what is often the undesirable truth: we are often creatures of selfishness and lust whether we like to admit it or not. But whether you listen for the lyrics or not, the guitar melody on this song tasty.

And then there's 'Gina's World'. Weirdly, this wasn't a stand out for me at the beginning, maybe because of its melancholic intensity; now, that's what draws me to it so ferociously. The guitar on the chorus is very beautiful and then the climax of the song with the storytelling perfectly encapsulates that feeling of loss of control that can be so dangerous. The nature of the song-writing make these songs the gift that keeps on giving. 'We just murdered the sun' is the culmination of a song that begins with 'Gina had a gun' and ends with 'Gina's on the news/ How did she get there? I'm so confused.' You recognise it as the plot of a thriller, almost like Thelma and Louise (which makes sense when you know that Gina is Marika's best friend), but then it feels like this song is saying a whole lot more. Either way, you feel this song hard. 

So the appeal of the album comes from its coolness and realness. There are times when it is dark, gritty, maybe a little dirty. There are times when the sun shines through it and Marika's harmonies and vocals are angelic. Marika Hackman is a talented lady indeed and her masterful songwriting and guitar playing are just as impressive as her vocals. I am a bit in love!

1. My Lover Cindy-- simultaneously dark and light 
2. Gina's World-- a real piece of storytelling
3. Eastbound Train-- listened to a lot
... I'm out on a walk and maybe feeling a bit out of sorts. It reflects your inner thoughts and mood and feels therapeutic. It's also oddly feel good despite some of the darker vibes to it.

'I’m a lousy lover/ Even if I try/ I can go for a couple of weeks and the feelings calcify.'   ('My Lover Cindy')

... it would be chartreuse. Not far off the colour of the walls in the album artwork. I thought of green because it is an album about organic thoughts and embracing the innate feelings we have. There's a lot of darkness there, but ultimately a playful side shines through these songs. Chartreuse has yellow to it, so the vividness of this particular colour felt a good fit!

'Innervisions'/ Stevie Wonder (1973)

'I'm Not Dead'/ Pink (2006)
'Is Your Love Big Enough?'/ Lianne La Havas (2012)
'I, Gemini'/Let's Eat Grandma (2016)
'I'm All Ears'/ Let's Eat Grandma (2018)

What is your favourite album beginning with I?

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