Review: Marika Hackman’s Overcast Ode to Queer Desire
Life imitates art, and I, being very alive, am always on the lookout for more to imitate. My usual suspects—old Susan Sontag diaries, the movie Moulin Rouge!—have grown tired, so I was thrilled when Marika Hackman came up with her latest: an album that is both sexy and grown-up, strongly rooted and artistically congruent, set to eerie vocals and wirey electric guitar. Any Human Friend is a substantial contribution to the oeuvre of queer desire.
All of the song titles on Any Human Friend are in lowercase, a move that totally belies the adult complexity of the album. Hackman kicks off with the creepy-carnival-esque “wanderlust,” a recall to her earlier works of dark and floaty folk. But her second song, “the one,” sets the new tone, sweeping from snarky one-liners to the highly meta and metaphysical. “I’m not the one you want,” she sings, ripe for wailing along: “I fucked it up with the saddest songs.” We’re also introduced to Hackman’s excellent voice: monotone, with no rough edges, like a siren or a sea creature. Her vocals mimic the sound of the electric guitar on the album. The two instruments are equally tight and wired, providing many moments of tension but never letting up or bursting.
Any Human Friend relies on a very particular thematic contradiction. Hackman spends much of the album flaunting her sexual transgressions, easily casting off any traces of shame. So why is there such an overcast underbelly to it all? Hackman does not feel bad about the things she says she is guilty of, but she does feel bad about something.
This duality is obvious in the widely-quoted “hand solo,” a well-delivered pun-filled ode to masturbation. The song pokes fun at cautionary tales, like that masturbating too much will make you go blind, while detailing the solo sex act in a series of juicy, obvious metaphors. Hackman is aware of the imposed guilt, but it clearly doesn’t bother her; she’s still making stupid puns and singing about it all.
Hackman’s not ashamed of her more traditional promiscuity, either: “And I think that I love her / but I’m fucking another,” she sings cheerfully in “come undone.” But there are streaks of more subtle shame that do stick. Over the bright and poppy “conventional ride,” Hackman details a relationship where she feels like an experiment. She’s not angry at her tourist-y lover, though; she’s worried for her, embarrassed. There’s a solid 45 seconds of uncertain intro instrumentals, buzzing and busy; the song is mocking, sure, but anxious. And when Hackman slides into the chorus: “Could it be that you need a conventional ride?” you can tell she’s troubled. Is her love for this woman the thing that is preventing her from being loved by a man?
In every iteration of my own same-sex relationships—from the most casual to the most committed—I also have glimmers of this uniquely queer worry of predatoriness. In low moments, it’s easy to believe the stereotypes, to think of my love as an imposition, not quite so natural as the love of a man. If I married a woman, wouldn’t I be depriving her of some imagined future life, from the white-picket fences and heterosexual conventional ride? Until I shake that internalized homophobia, I’ll always have something to compensate for.
Hackman traverses the same topic again in my favorite song of hers, 2017’s “My Lover Cindy.” “I’m a greedy pig / I’m gonna get my fill / I’m gonna keep my eyes on the prize and suck you dry / I will,” she growls, and I haven’t stopped thinking about those words since I heard them. Like most of Hackman’s work, the song does not feel like a statement. She deliberately removes any and all political context, making the song entirely about her individual experience. It’s clear, now, that social constructs impact what is most intimate: how we feel about each other, even how we see ourselves.
The sickly shameful undertone is exemplified best in Hackman’s favorite lyric on the album: “I gave it all / but under patriarchal law / I’m gonna die a virgin,” she sings. In a different context this could be a triumphant line, a fuck-you to patriarchal law. But on Any Human Friend, it’s melancholy. Maybe virginity is a social construct, but perception shapes reality: is there something missing in a life of loving women?
Since Hackman brilliantly avoids the shallowness of easy reclamation, her moments of joy and pain are even more powerful. In the absolute middle of the record, she gives us an indie epic à la “Night Shift” by Lucy Dacus. “send my love” is by far the most lingering song on the album. The song is simple and resonant, an opening-up of a character which had before been only tight. “Did you love me tonight / or any night of our lives?” she asks, her heart spilling. It’s a beautiful question, certainly one I’ll file away so that I can feel my next breakup a little harder.
It’s impossible to write about Any Human Friend’s specificity without mentioning its grand gestures towards the universal. Hackman snagged the title of the album from a conversation between four-year-olds in a documentary about dementia (they’d be happy to have “any human friend”, whether old or young). The title and the concept sweeps towards a vision of glossing over difference, yet this record is unwriteable without Hackman’s individual experience.
Perhaps she’s trying to encapsulate another contradiction: in carving out her individuality, in all its queerness and sexiness, Hackman is making our composite picture of life and living a little bit more whole. She writes in service of exploration of self, not declaration of identity, and in the process becomes another voice in the collective, giving us all more love to imitate.
On the final, titular song of Any Human Friend, Hackman goes large, with sweet, still harmonies. She uses the same language as in the searing “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell, calling all of us golden. “Meet me on the outside ‘cause we don’t belong,” she hums in this ocean-rush of a song. “We’re golden.”