The point of a covers album, it would seem to me, is a happy interlude in the middle of an otherwise successful and original discography, used to explore new regions in the cavernous network of sound; something of a self-indulgence.
No doubt, then, that quarantine has afforded Marika Hackman this opportunity. And the result is the album ‘Covers’, apparently home-recorded and engineered in the artist’s East London flat and at her parent’s house.
Hackman’s career to date has been balanced between enigmatic music with a tinge of folk and more liberated, danceable anthems (especially on the album ‘Any Human Friend’, released last year). This album might be viewed as a revival of the former, as she takes original songs from artists like Beyonce, Grimes, and Radiohead, and washes them in restrained renditions thick with melody and atmosphere.
Take the opening track, for instance. ‘You Never Wash Up After Yourself’ is from Radiohead’s 1994 ‘My Iron Lung’. Where in the original Thom Yorke’s pathos-laden pizzicato is overlayed with his rakish tenor, it is here reproduced in a warm and ethereal setting, where the instrumentation completely gives way to double-tracked, delayed vocals.
And it is true that throughout the album Hackman’s singing is exploited well, where her brooding and yet angelic vocal can be lent to the next track’s extremely poetic lyrics -The Shin’s ‘Phantom Limb’- or the penultimate song ‘In Undertow’, originally by Canadian act Alvvays, where it works beautifully with the song’s lyrical ennui (“‘What’s left for you and me?’/I ask that question rhetorically”).
Another high point is ‘Jupiter 4’, originally by Sharon Van Etten, where Hackman omits the doom-laden synth and celestial theremin present in the original and thereby seems to shift the scope of the drama, but by no means diminishes its potency, as she assures the subject of the song and the eavesdropping listener that her “love is for real”.
Love pops again on track eight, for a cover of little-known artist Edith Frost’s 1997 song ‘Temporary Loan’, although this time it is sadly one-sided, Hackman wallowing in the company of just a guitar and the mic (we hear the guitar slide out of arms at the end) as she sings: “She no longer loves me/ I’m supposed to forget about her/I was just a harbour/ A temporary love/ On loan”.
By the end, I think any listener would agree that this slight diversion and indulgence in Hackman’s output is really our indulgent diversion. Its atmosphere and coy melody are aptly suited to a meditative advent, perhaps to be broken only by her criminally underrated Christmas song ‘Driving Under Stars’.
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