Following a flurry of E.P. releases and one mini album over a two year period – as well as having once been drafted as MVP of sorts for supermodel friend Cara Delevigne’s musical aspirations – Marika Hackman’s debut album is a consistently, if not relentlessly, sombre record. Wistful and brooding, the tone is solidly set with the single ‘Drown’ and the record subsequently opts to divert any deviation from this plotted course. Layered, accented vocals and bare instrumentation support the singer’s composition style without coming close to the realms of grating or over reliance. For every shimmering individual moment however, the album seems to revert to a sense of self confinement and a refusal to play well with other moods, outside of its very definite emotional scope.
We’ve already seen that Hackman can write a catchy tune and do pop without abandoning her folk leanings, as was evident last year with the excellently whimsical ‘Bath is Black’ single. Notably, she doesn’t seem to even entertain that possibility here, with only a solitary flirtation with anything close to up-tempo to show for it, on the track ‘Animal Fear’.
However Hackman is at her strongest when she’s taking a more raw approach to delivering a song. ‘Ophelia’ is beautifully stripped down case in point, building from the slightest of guitar injection, punctuated piano chords and muted vocals into a much more enveloping affair. ‘Let Me In’ comes off as a slightly contrived effort. A ploddingly bleak listen without any identifiable emotional payoff to supplement the song itself.
Mainly we are taken through similar terrain for the duration of the album, some of which is both engaging and extremely worthwhile. ‘Skin’ is the unmistakable standout, containing moments where some of her phrasing and inflection is not dissimilar to that of Stina Nordenstam. This approach works masterfully, as it also employs subtle vocal theatrics to wonderful effect, allowing Hackman to play something of a dual role in the song’s narrative. Other promising moves are made on ‘Open Wide’, which opens distinctively, grittily resembling little else on the album but finishes up sounding abjectly disjointed and uninspired overall.
Luckily, We Slept At Last itself feels anything but disjointed. On the surface it’s certainly a confident, single-minded and focused collection, which showcases Hackman as an extremely exciting talent but – despite some terrific flourishes – there is the niggling impression that she has created something of an emotionally one-note experience.