“I don’t know what to do,
You think I’m better than you
But maybe I did too,
‘Cause baby there’s a line between
your faith and what I had in mind…”
Poignant confessions of a self-sabotaging loner or ramblings of an egoist gleefully tallying up the number of lovers she let down? Wish I knew. What we do know is that the title of the album, “Any Human Friend” came from a British documentary about four-year-old children interacting with elderly dementia patients. Marika Hackman was taken by the effortless and profound companionship that preschoolers could find and enjoy in these retirement homes. This depth of introspection reconciles well with her authentic levels of cringe at being a former model for Burberry as well as the distinct discomfort from sporadically being labelled as “folk.”
27-year-old Hackman’s style in her triumphant new album is best equated as a mix of alt-rock, synthy dark vibes with a lilting East London poppy color thrown in. On Nov. 4, Starline Social Club, the charming, (no — not code for crushingly small) non-fussy venue in Oakland provided for a perfect observation platform. Inches away from the singer I took in everything — from her gear plugged in via a Type G, British adapter; box of Altoids; black Converse High-tops hopping near a set-list pasted on the floor. Rollicking in the spaces between trip hop, grungy sounding folk and alt-rock, she kicked off the set with the tender “Wanderlust,” which tips ever so slightly towards her almost acoustic ballad beginnings of “We Slept At Last,” her 2015 debut.
Hackman’s haunting vocals, range of instrumentation and emotions give an intimately raw glimpse into her headspace — so yes, reductively defining her music as “dark” would be disrespectfully lazy. Some reviewers have focussed on the erotically charged (“smutty”?) nature of the messages, which I think is naively limiting. An unmistakable swag underscores her stage presence, the latest album and her support band Girl Friday. My personal high at the show was the singularly beautiful “I’m not where you are.” The music video features a distant, bored Hackman — drenched in a breakfast bloody Mary, having her belongings flung out of windows, lying in bed — vacant. The video has its comedic elements, but one can’t ignore the deeply terrifying incapacity to respond to her lover’s overtures — visible both in the lyrics and in the images. Hackman’s screeching refrain on stage matched the anguish we saw in the video.
Thankfully, not all was passionately dark and intense. During a brief break, Hackman breathlessly enquired if anyone was called “Phil” in the audience, proceeding to let us in on the tour-wide quest for a guy called Phil. Can’t let her inside joke slip, so you will just have to catch her on the next leg of the tour to hear why.
“All Night” and “Hand Solo,” as the titles suggest, ventured a bit further into the sensual realms but not without a kind warning from the singer, “this is going to be awkward for those here on their first dates.”
Hackman’s work and performance on the current tour definitively mark her as someone to watch out for. Her depth and defiant vulnerability elevate the audience experience beyond what’s achievable by poppy queer anthems. And since she hates being labelled a folk singer, if she weren’t a musician, I’d probably categorize her as a Nirvana-loving transgressionist philosopher — with BDE. (Google it.)
Contact Anupriya Dwivedi at adwivedi ‘at’ stanford.edu.