Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man Review

One of the UK's most promising, quiet artists gets loud as hell.
Sub Pop Records, 2017
Purchase: Sub Pop Records / Amazon

8.5 / 10

I wasn’t the only one that missed out of Marika Hackman‘s excellent debut, right? 2015’s We Slept At Last is a real gem — dark, melancholy alt-folk music that feels less sad than haunted. It’s an album that feels sadly overlooked. That’s likely to change now that Hackman’s second full-length is here, and lost souls such as myself become familiar with Hackman’s music through audacious singles like “Boyfriend” and “My Lover Cindy”. Hackman summed up her new record best in a recent interview: “Fuck it, I’ll just let it flow.”

And that’s exactly how I’m Not Your Man feels. It feels like a musician realizing that the boundaries of songwriting are allowed, not enforced. We Slept At Last was an introspective, introverted, quiet record. However, I’m Not Your Man is crackling with energy and entirely restless.

The title of the record speaks volumes. At once it’s a thesis statement on gender identity and sexuality. But it’s also a friendly nod to Leonard Cohen‘s 1988 landmark. That album also found a (mostly) folk songwriter sonically expand in wonderful, exciting ways. Let’s focus on the former part of this equation first. There are a few thematic lines that Hackman draws across her album. The two most prominent of these being destructive relationships (whether it be with friends or lovers) and the sexualization of women.

The latter of these is most prominent in lead single and first track, “Boyfriend”. Hackman, as the narrator, draws another woman into a sexual relationship. She does so while keeping in mind that her boyfriend won’t perceive Hackman as a threat because she’s “just a girl”. It’s an indictment of men’s view of women, both in relationships and otherwise. The song’s video shows a group of male hipster heartthrobs playing to a crowd of enraptured women. However, Hackman and Big Moon (who serve as the backing band for I’m Not Your Man) are the ones actually rocking the joint. The video for “My Lover Cindy” showcases a same-sex relationship more directly in visuals if not lyrics.

Now onto the Leonard Cohen side of things. I’m Your Man was the album where Cohen started experimenting more with synthesizers. That adventure gave us many of his biggest hits and most memorable gems. With I’m Not Your Man, Hackman takes her melancholic folk music, runs it through an amplifier, and gets loud, both figuratively and literally.

“Boyfriend” feels like a Pablo Honey-style rocker. “Good Intentions” could easily fit on PJ Harvey’s Songs from the City, Songs from the Sea. “Time’s Been Reckless” could be mistaken for a Parklife-era Blur tune. Hackman draws off of those 90s-alt-rock influences, performs some kind of alchemy, and spins them into a gold that feels fresh and relevant for today. When she ventures farthest from the moody worlds of We Slept At Last, they serve as the album’s strongest moments. It isn’t until the sixth track, “Violet”, that we hear a cut that could have felt at home on her first record.

I’m Not Your Man houses many great songs, but its problem is the connective tissue. Hackman’s lyrics remain constant, but the musical approaches can vary wildly from song to song. This lack of consistency is jarring in a strange way. The album doesn’t feel like a grab bag of random songs. Instead, it feels like an artist still discovering her musical identity. The author of “Cigarette” and “Time’s Been Reckless” don’t feel like the same person, even though those two tracks are back-to-back. The same goes for “Apple Tree” and “So Long”, or “Good Intentions” and “Gina’s World.” On We Slept At Last (again, an album you need to hear), this wasn’t an issue. But on I’m Not Your Man, Hackman is exploding in a dozen+1 different directions.

Key Tracks:
“Boyfriend”
“Good Intentions”
“Time’s Been Reckless”
“Blahblahblah”
“Violet”