Within folk, there’s a constant and essential need to remain within the acoustic, the wooden, the real. Crossing into unfamiliar instrumental territory can often fragment a delicately antiquated and almost traditional approach to the genre. Familiar up and down the spectrum of folk music, there are unwritten stylistic must-haves and mustn’t do’s that loosely govern the melodious order of what fits the sound.
It’s the artists who test these stylistic boundaries we become enamoured with. Marika Hackman’s new album, We Slept At Last, flutters in and out of genres to create a sound so full of atmosphere, nostalgia and fullness, it’s beautifully hard to place. There’s a surprising amount of electronica on what otherwise would be a unambiguously folky album – and thank goodness. The ambiance of this record is kept afloat by the outrageously well placed and yet quite unexpected sounds sampled in We Slept At Last. From the 80s keys in ‘Before I Sleep’, to the aerophonic groans in ‘Undone, Undress’, to the Vocoder-vocals of ‘Drown’, the album stands as testament to Hackman’s versatility.
The record begins with the powerful ‘Growth’, which slowly builds and rumbles into anthemic first track, which seems to echo Hackman’s self-admitted apprehension whilst producing the album:
“Oh I am bold as brass posing as gold?
You can shine me all you want
But I am hard as I am cold
To know your faults, to know yourself I suit me well”
The second track ‘Before I Sleep’, seems to have been influenced by Charlie Matthew, who’s also weighed in on producing Alt J, Sivu and Nick Mulvey. The piercing keys in ‘Before I Sleep’ makes it worth repeated listens. The cynical ‘Open Wide’ features new-wave-esque reverbing guitar that sounds more akin to early 90s rock than 2015 folk. Speaking of Sivu, his unmistakable vocals slip gently next to Marika’s on the beautiful ‘Skin’, a lullaby that floats seamlessly into ‘Claude’s Girl’. The vocals of ‘Claude’s Girl’ remind me 70’s folk, and have an almost timeless texture to them. These vocals seem to hint to the similarly hypnotic ‘Monday Afternoon’ later in the record. The placement of songs on this album is a triumph on its own, each track leading flawlessly into the next.
Hackman has built such a strong first album from three EP’s worth of fantastic foundation. If you’re concerned this record’s going to crumble under its own weight, don’t be. This is a flawless, varied and gorgeous first album. There’s a further depth to Hackman’s songs on We Slept At Last, which gives the impression she’s developing a broodier sound as an artist. The change is welcome and I’ve loved every second of this album.
Words: Joseph Merriman