Willie Reviews Marika Hackman’s “Any Human Friend”

Willie Reviews Marika Hackman’s “Any Human Friend”

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Marika Hackman’s new record, Any Human Friend, takes a long look at discarded elements of music production and decides they’re all fair game again. In creating a pop record haunted by the specter of the genre, she accesses the popular conscious in deeply satisfying ways. These are songs you can actually relate to. Here’s RPM’s review:

Marika Hackman is making guitar pop that bears all the marks of guitar pop, so why does it seem so uncanny? The well-respected genre of light guitars shudders as it hears Hackman coming, but it can’t look away. I voice this concern after hearing her new album, Any Human Friend. It hits one inch to the left of where I expected it to, and now I’m left trying to understand. So allow me, if you would, to put down this Paramore mug and investigate.

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A facsimile of overproduction reigns throughout the album, teetering between “just enough” and “too much.” It simultaneously evokes ballads of the 1980s and power pop of the early 2000s. Guitars state their case loudly, and nothing meant to stick out ever fades into the mix. There are disco beats, tall stacks of instruments playing during choruses, and clean bass sounds. Of course we all love a good guitar lick, but it requires an audacious musician to include the kind of lick a hotel chain might use over their logo at the end of an in-house training video. I’m talking about the guitar fill at the end of each phrase in the verse of “come undone.” At first, it actually angered me. We should be used to our postmodern musicians taking cues from archaic production, but to pursue it so strongly was beyond shocking for me. I understand it now. It’s too real to swallow after the first listen, but see if you don’t think about that offensive phrase all day.

I don’t want to give the impression that the album is somehow unlistenable or outwardly hostile toward the cool, hip listener. Most tracks, even at a surface level, are tasteful in their borrowing. “blow” builds off the anthem rock aesthetic and brings in some funk. It’s placed so curiously between the things it plays with that it’s an object all its own. “the one” is upbeat enough that you’re likely to already be on board. The more the tone of the album reveals itself, the more it becomes clear that it’s getting out in front of “cool” before it arrives. It goes bargain hunting for wretched relics of music past, and turns them out in a decidedly current way. Just think what insufferably normal people say about fashion shows—things like: “that’s pretty weird” or “nobody would ever wear that,” or, even better, “nobody wears that anymore.” It’s refreshing to just take a stab at where our collective trends are heading.

Marika Hackman, photo by Joost Vandebrug

But really, the album’s key is telling us why it sounds the way it does. Despite its pop sensibilities, it’s a deeply personal album. Hackman knows this all too well. Her lyrics gravitate toward the sexual self, a nontraditional pop motif. They are honest, explicit, and urgent. But her greatest strength is seeing the impossibility of showing your fragile self in pop music. Expressing yourself earnestly is inherently prohibited. There is always already a pig in front of your naked body, so it makes sense to embrace that fact and move forward.

Knowing that, her confessional lyrics bend toward playful declarations, not guarded enigmas. The opener and its transition out state this thesis right away. “wanderlust” is a lo-fi, brooding, loping folk-type piece. It obscures itself in any way it can, but that simply won’t do for Any Human Friend. A wobbling wave overtakes it and introduces the clean guitar on “the one.” Out of all the deeply hilarious moments on the album, this one is the best and most rewarding. You don’t get to sit in your room and pick at your guitar. You have to sing to the world all your thoughts and hope for some enlightening return. This turns out to work really well, like on masturbation anthem “hand solo.” The freedom and pride of it on a macro scale produces the line “I gave it all / but under patriarchal law / I’m gonna die a virgin.” Whatever the topic, Hackman approaches it with levity and the attitude that, after all, it’s pop music.

Score: A cheery hi-hat telling you all the secrets you never knew you needed to know.

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