Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Marika Hackman's I'm Not Your Man.
Marika Hackman’s coming to steal your girl. And if I’m Not Your Man is any indicator of her ability to do so, underestimating her would be a mistake. Much like the way spring’s lamb-like delicacy melts without warning into the sticky seasonal underbelly we call summer, Hackman’s replaced the chilling softness found on 2015 We Slept At Last with sultry carnal beauty reminiscent of being passionately tied up in front of a sunset. Now backed by the Big Moon, fellow Brits and four-piece band fronted by Juliette Jackson, she carefully harnessed the power of five talented women to make an extensive, hook-filled encapsulation of the dark, humid pressure chamber that lies inside of every passionate pursuit, just waiting to burst.
On the opening track “Boyfriend,” the British songwriter uses cultural undermining of lesbian relationships to her advantage to steal a lover from right under her boyfriend’s nose. “It’s fine ‘cause I am just a girl, it doesn’t count / He knows a woman needs a man to make her shout,” she pouts with a smirk, just after she details her firey night with this woman: “I held his girl in my hands, she likes it ‘cause they’re softer than a man.” An instrumental break backs escalating orgasmic screams screams from Jackson, and hilariously reiterates—in case you didn’t already know this—that a woman most certainly does not, in fact, need a man to make her shout.
Although not exactly the safest creative move for Hackman, her shift away from the floating folk-charged twee expected from a budding Laura Marling-esque singer-songwriter gave Hackman space to explore—thematically and musically—to find her stride in a rawer realm. Her steamy 2017 sound is slightly more reminiscent of a modern Nirvana-inspired ’90s grunge—Hackman cited Nirvana as one of her earliest influences for making music—but it’s all neatly housed inside of the original songwriting Hackman seems to be forever refining. She’s always been able to boast uniquely sticky hooks (move over, Joni Mitchell), but combined with her new gritty confidence, expert production by Charlie Andrew, and fearless strokes of personality on every track, Hackman’s differentiated herself from singer-songwriter indie monotony and proved herself capable of being a multifaceted rising blasé cool girl powerhouse on every front.
Hackman’s millennial moral and sexual honesty is present throughout the album. She’s definitely not pretending to be perfect, and in fact, seems to comfortably display her her flaws, and at times braggadociously inhabit them. In “My Lover Cindy,” Hackman sings about using and ghosting someone, being on the draining end of a toxic hook-up: “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.” What would be deprecating lyrics feel more casual than confessional over her brand skating shoegaze and twangy lagging guitar lines. The effect reads like a flat, contradictory statement of personal dissonance: I know I’m being shitty, but I can’t and won’t stop—a excruciatingly honest testament to an untouchable hallmark of young adulthood.
While often avoiding from overwrought folk themes and traditionalism in content, I’m Not Your Man still deliberately draws from traditional form. “Apple Tree” evokes a medieval English folk ballad in melody, percussion and use of horns, but with room-y production and a touch of drama feels chillingly modern. Alluding to the primary storytelling function these older forms of folk, Hackman substitutes her own distinctly 2017 narrative of emotional masochism, the thrilling push and pull of playing with something or someone you know isn’t good for you.
Hackman’s recount of pain and passion crests, crashes and implodes on “I Would Rather Be With Them.” She laments the inevitable souring of the one-part love, one-part hate concoction that makes up the lighter fluid of lust, and the carnal malaise it causes: “Don’t make me throw up / I know that you will...“It’s all coming out now / Black, brown / Wine and bile.” Hackman can effectively portray the euphoric bodily effects of love, but she’s not sparing any truth on its ability to poison you to your bodily core. The softer, but equally crushing demise on “Cigarette,” unfolding a fight, a relational tipping point, through more stripped-down strums is the folk-peak of the album—a icy-stark contrast to the acidic bitterness it frames.
But amid Hackman’s truthfully bare, at times even cynical, takes on romantic ecstasy gone astringent lies flickers of lavish desire so pure you forgot got the biting hatred from the previous track that made you wonder if romance was even worth it to begin with. When you’re laying on bathroom tile retching in emotional agony or screaming in locked car, it’s easy to wonder what keeps you coming back, what makes you keep playing with fire, but Hackman knows the exact thrill on the other end that mixes with the mess and gets you hooked. “Violet” distills the kind of erotic fixation so intense that you can’t concentrate. Hackman described it to Sub Pop records as “such a sexual song,” explaining that it’s about nothing more than the obsession she had with her girlfriend’s mouth.
I’m Not Your Man is an alluringly dark snapshot of sensual human ensnarement, void of all neat edges and basking in its risk. Its ability to access the complicated subconscious moments of desire, love, hatred—the ones more controlled by our body and our mind—is unlike any singer-songwriter album in recent memory, and the reason you should give yourself away to Marika Hackman for a while.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, the Head of Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.