Transcending quarantine blues
On latest album Covers, English singer-songwriter Marika Hackman breathes new life into a collection of classics and obscure hits alike. Including original takes on songs by Radiohead, Beyonce, Grimes, The Shins and more, Covers dives deep into Hackman’s diverse musical inspirations. Thanks to her trademark stripped-down, understated production and ethereal, soulful vocals, Hackman makes each song distinctly hers. And although Covers features no new songs, Hackman’s songwriting creativity nevertheless shines through in her bold (yet never pretentious) artistic adaptations.
With Hackman’s version of “You Never Wash Up After Yourself,” Covers starts off strong yet vulnerable. Despite running just over a minute and a half, the Radiohead cover is particularly memorable thanks to its languid, emotional vocals and atmospheric instrumentals. Naturally, “You Never Wash Up After Yourself” will resonate deeply with listeners restless and dejected due to quarantine blues. Next, Hackman strips back “Phantom Limb,” dramatically shifting the song’s overall tone. The Shins’ original “Phantom Limb” is lyrically somber yet sonically buoyant, which creates a strange yet alluring juxtaposition. According to The Shins’ lead singer James Mercer, the song is “a fictional account of a young, lesbian couple in high school dealing with the shitty small town they live in.” Hackman’s version augments the original track’s understated sadness, detachment and angst with eerily beautiful, movingly dynamic vocals.
Hackman’s talent for reimagining songs in her own vision shines through particularly brightly on “Realiti” and “All Night.” On “Realiti,” Hackman replaces Grimes’ pulsating, eminently danceable beat with dreamy harmonies, minimalist percussion and empty space. It’s a bold creative decision that undoubtedly pays off–Hackman’s transformative rendition accentuates the original song’s tragic lyrics about love, loss and obsession more than ever before. Equally surprising is Hackman’s version of Beyonce’s “All Night.” While she replicates the original’s soaring vocals and sensual overtones, Hackman trades forthright swagger for low-tempo self-reflection.
Similarly, Hackman’s twist on “Jupiter 4” adeptly channels the power and atmosphere of Sharon Van Etten’s version. Gone are the cinematic, ethereal synths, replaced by a spacious, vivid combination of keys, bass guitar and more. Meanwhile, her cover of Alvvays’ “In Undertow” substitutes indie pop verve for melancholy, haunting serenity. And in her interpretation of Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars,” Hackman emulates the solemn tone, poignant vocals and delicate guitar that made the original a classic.
Though many of her fans might have preferred her fourth full-length album to have consisted solely of original music, Hackman’s latest release certainly doesn’t disappoint. Covers is especially impressive considering that it was predominantly a solo effort–Hackman recorded and produced the entire album on her own in quarantine. Afterwards, the venerable David Wrench (Frank Ocean, The xx, Glass Animals, FKA Twigs and more) mixed Covers. The result is a ten-song collection of elegantly minimalist renditions that highlight Hackman’s superb versatility, creativity and artistic vision.