Any Human Friend confirms that Hackman has successfully carved out a particular place for herself in a crowded indie rock scene.
On the unforgettable cover of Marika Hackman’s latest LP, Any Human Friend, she cradles a dappled piglet against her naked chest while wearing nothing but a pair of massive drawers and some crumpled socks. She looks directly into the camera, her mouth slightly open, as if to say I really couldn’t give a fuck.
At first, the album’s 11 songs seem to communicate this same attitude towards self and world. “They’re saying I’m a god sent gift/ And all you fuckers want my dick,” she sings with that same “disaffected vocal delivery” that Rose Kerr described as characteristic of Hackman’s previous album, 2017’s I’m Not Your Man. But Hackman is deeply aware of indifference’s transgressive appeal, and the strength of Any Human Friend is its ability—up to a certain point—to inhabit unconcern and critique it at the same time.
“Blow” provides one clear instance of the album’s self-contradicting position. Here, Hackman recognizes a companion’s self-destructive behavior, but her nonchalant demeanor prevents her from revealing concern. “God knows when you’re feeling low/ I try to bite my tongue,” she confesses, even if the end result is that this friend becomes more dependent on drugs and alcohol.
But the most transparent consideration of the issue appears on “Come Undone,” which finds Hackman reflecting on how her refusal to express emotion in the context of a relationship actively prevents her from experiencing intimacy and reciprocal devotion. “I like that you never let me stay the night/ When we’ve got it on/ Too much of anything is where it comes undone/ We could come undone,” the song begins. This set of beliefs leads her to distance herself forthrightly, out of fear that any articulation of feeling will cause things to crumble: “And I think that I love her/ But I’m fucking another/ It’s enough to make a girl go to ground.” Coolness, obviously Hackman’s forte, turns out to be both exhausting and damaging, even as it retains its allure.
Musically, the album also conveys Hackman’s signature hip impassivity. Sometimes this takes the shape of straight-up sarcasm, as on “Conventional Ride,” where Hackman uses dad rock idioms to suggest that one of her lovers might be better suited for someone more boring. The casual one-two-three-four drumming and air-guitar bass line fly direct from a Wilco jam, and even the song’s psychedelic ending—slightly muted string arrangements, faux-profound vocal reverberations—seems like part of the elaborate joke.
At other points, Hackman’s coolness is all about patience, as on standout “Send My Love.” This track, like a handful of others on Any Human Friend, finds her playing with electro and R&B elements to inhabit a space reminiscent of Niki and the Dove’s recent work. These slow-dance keyboard chords are for lonely patrons only, and they build to a laid-back, baby-talking sample that takes us to the chorus… but not before a suggestive pause, between the kick inside and a primal plea. “One more time,” the chorus starts, in recognition of finality’s significance and impossibility.
Hackman makes such moments seem effortless, simply a logical extension of the grungy, tuneful rock that marked her previous work. Yet the album also represents the limits of her current style, since it seems impossible for its musical components to critique themselves. Hackman’s words demonstrate her recognition of failure: they reassess her other words and acknowledge musical imperfection and contradiction. This verbal acknowledgment of melodic shortcoming is most evident when the lyrics veer towards the meta. “I’m not the one you want/ But leave it on,” she implores on aforementioned “The One.” On a certain level, she’s speaking to us, asking that we continue to listen even if the album isn’t exactly what we wanted or expected. The words of “Hold On,” too, hope that we’ll stick around, and it makes perfect sense that it’s the penultimate track, since we just have to dial in a little bit longer before the journey ends.
The album’s nonverbal components, on the other hand, are incapable of finding problems with themselves, of extending Hackman’s project of self-critique. This is in some ways a backhanded compliment—she’s just too good at crafting pithy, poppy melodies—but the album poses a provocative challenge that she can’t quite meet. What sounds can exist in all of their brazen glory and simultaneously reveal this brazenness as problematic?
Any Human Friend confirms that Hackman has successfully carved out a particular place for herself in a crowded indie rock scene: no other rocker is making reliably catchy pop tunes with this level of confidence and honest complication. The LP also maps one possible route towards Hackman’s next project, a reflexive sonic territory where music can unflinchingly and totally hold a mirror to itself.