Marika Hackman didn’t start out like this. The English musician was just making plaintive and wispy folk music on her 2015 debut album, We Slept At Last, but something snapped two years ago when she came out with I’m Not Your Man. Her songs suddenly had claws. They were more direct, they had a whole lot to say. That album’s breakout single, “Boyfriend,” was slyly sardonic, a song about a boyfriend’s girlfriend cheating on him with Hackman. The boyfriend dismisses the nature of their relationship as casual, not built to last. “It’s fine ’cause I am just a girl,” Hackman sings. “It’s just a dream/ A woman really needs a man to make her scream.”
But it’s clear that Hackman got the last laugh (and moan). Her third album, Any Human Friend, continues to develop that sort of sharp, sexually-charged songwriting. She’s fixated on all the possible manifestations of love and obsession, and she’s also frustrated with the rest of the world’s inability to catch up to a less traditional mode of desire. The album’s title is a plea for meaningful connection from someone who isn’t slimy and self-serving, from anyone that doesn’t have an ulterior motive. Hackman’s search for different types of intimacy plays out throughout Any Human Friend, which is filled with the kind of songs that are powerful and uncompromising but, on some deeper level, are just as unsure and vulnerable as the rest of us.
One of its best tracks, “The One,” tackles the doctrine of self-love. It’s devilishly fun, an ego-driven song about the inherent weirdness of throwing yourself fully into your art in order to sell it and make a living. “Love me more/ Rub me ’til my ego’s raw/ I’ve got BDE/ I think it’s a venereal disease,” she quips. All that cocky posturing is a fantasy, of course, a way to stave off the longing and isolation. “I’m not the one you want/ I fucked it up with the saddest songs,” Hackman sings, an evaluation of her own career, her tendency to mine sadness for personal gain. It’s an effervescent song from an artist that’s struggling with whether to reject or embrace attention.
To that end, Any Human Friend contains some of Hackman’s most attention-grabbing songs to date. These songs are accessible and confidently constructed, with catchy choruses and unfussy execution. Alongside co-producer David Wrench, Hackman ups the ante compared to her previous two albums. These tracks are impeccably put together. Slicing electric guitars, padded synths, and an intoxicating New Wave-adjacent swagger add up to songs that are subtly infectious, assured, and eclectic.
Her aim for Any Human Friend is to filter the pitfalls and joys of love and desire through a decidedly queer perspective. “All Night” is sensual and sexy, all about giving and getting head. “We go down on one another/ You’re my favorite kind of lover,” she sings. “With your kissing, eating, fucking, moaning,” every other word shouted from the background. “You don’t hear much about sex between women in music, or if you do it’s usually from a fetishized male perspective,” she said of that song. “I thought I’d reclaim a bit of that power.”
A lot of Any Human Friend is about that reclamation of power. “Hand Solo” is about masturbation, relishing in that alone time with a gleeful vulgarity. “My finger touch/ I’ve been feeling stuff/ Dark meat/ Skin pleat/ I’m working,” she sings on it, still taking the time to sneak in a pointed dig at society’s view of non-penetrative sex: “I gave it all/ But under patriarchal law/ I’m gonna die a virgin.”
Hackman gives the same deconstructive eye to relationships and power plays. “Send My Love” is a slow-burn about that one last fuck when you both know it’s ending but you want to hold on to a shred of what you had. “Come Undone” is one of the album’s most straight-forward rockers, twisted around the prickling hook: “And I think that I love her/ But I’m fucking another/ It’s enough to make a girl go to ground.” And on “I’m Not Where You Are,” she takes a long-distance flirtation and extends it to a generational malaise with face-to-face contact: “‘Cause lately I’ve been trying to find the point in human contact/ I get bored like that.”
Amidst all of these songs, a common thread starts to emerge: Above all, Any Human Friend is about modern exhaustion. Hackman attempts to stave off her jadedness with all of humanity in different ways — she tries to be overly confident, she loses herself in relationships and sex and desire — but at the end of the day, it’s still all too much. Hackman has to be herself, and she has to be herself in a world that feels increasingly harsh and chaotic. The last two songs on the album break down into heavy sighs. “Hold on, I want to be a newborn,” she sings on one of them. “Reprise of the child/ I’m tired.” If only the world would slow down long enough to get a grip.
Any Human Friend is out 8/9 via Sub Pop/AMF. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Infinity Crush’s devastatingly beautiful Virtual Heaven
• WHY?’s ambitious visual album AOKOHIO.
• Lilith’s fizzy and sincere debut Safer Off.
• Georgia Anne Muldrow and Dudly Perkins third album as G&D, Black Love & War.
• Electric Youth’s oozy Memory Emotion.
• The Regrettes’ How Do You Love?.
• Slipknot’s We Are Not Your Kind.
• Hammered Hulls’ self-titled debut 7″.