Album Review: Marika Hackman – Big Sigh

4/5

Big Sigh marks Marika Hackman’s first album in four years, so it’s not surprising that she has a lot to say.  Big Sigh’s opener, “The Ground,” however, is a softer start, a strangely synth-piano driven track, putting one in mind of an eerie, broken funfair.  Full of strange, discordant rhythms and oblique lyrics, it’s less of a punch between the eyes than a gentle invite into Hackman’s world.

Her world, once we’re in it, is full of lush sounds and tenderness, but it’s marred by a cold feeling.  Indeed, Big Sigh is permeated by consistent bleakness, whether it’s from the vast majority of the instrumentation, performed—beautifully—mostly by Hackman herself, or the honeyed vulnerability of the vocals softening up her blunt, harsh lyrics, the album has a kind of beautifully sad sheen.

This is enhanced by some of the better songs; the yearning acoustic howls on Blood, for example, really bring through the bleak mood, but the shining jewel of beauty is the gorgeous piano-led “The Lonely House.”  Despite this bleak, confessional, open feel, the album never entirely falls into the opaque or numbing blandness of misery.  No Caffeine, the album’s lead single, for instance, is about as poppy as it gets–all choppy rhythms and radio friendly hooks, while the album’s title track is all bombast and screamed vocals, and may in fact be the album’s highlight.

 

While listening to her twist and bend every sinew of her voice to extract all emotion and venom from her punchy, meaningful words, it’s really easy to see this album as a catharsis for Hackman, particularly given the four-year inactivity and self-doubt, but there’s not just one string to her songwriting bow.

The album never becomes samey, largely thanks to latter album tracks like the synth-led “Vitamins” and the sinister, but upbeat “Slime.”It’s incredibly clear that Hackman is a talented, versatile performer, picking up influences from across the musical spectrum, then discarding them with aplomb.  If she ever really doubted that she could return to music, I hope she answered all her doubts. This cathartic caterwaul of beauty and pain is a worthy return to the fold.

Buy or stream the album here.

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