Written by Gillian Greenlaw, Photo by Steve Gullick
Hampshire-born songwriter Marika Hackman began 2024 with her fifth album release entitled Big Sigh. Breathing new life into her already impressive discography, Big Sigh’s ten tracks appear like footprints in the snow, each step a new clue to where her emotional path leads. Hackman spent the pandemic in an artistic rut, unable to produce coherent songs or compositions. When she broke this songless spell, an album akin to the hibernating animal kingdom was born.
It begins with snowfall. The first song, “The Ground”, starts with a simple, cyclical piano melody and carries the calming nostalgia of a lullaby. Eventually enveloped by lush strings and a repetition of two lines of lyric, the spacey, angelic vocal effects come from a voice undefined. This unlikely beginning is goosebump-inducing and sparks curiosity for what is about to unfold. As the first track dissolves into distortion, “No Caffeine” follows with a piano melody in the same key; Hackman’s unadulterated voice piercing through the fog, listing new year’s anti-resolutions and unresolved ramblings. As lackluster feelings spawn lusterful lyricism, Hackman presents this body of work with deep humility. When the drums join, they introduce a contrasting energy and angst that further develop Hackman’s lyrical unease.
What follows is the titular track, reflective and somber with acoustic rhythm guitar and electric guitar arpeggiation riddled with chorus. With four on the floor, the chorus speaks volumes for what’s to come, reciting the lyric, “I don’t wanna talk today / Slack jaw giving me away.” Hackman’s candid expression of anxiety is highly resonant and persists throughout the rest of the album: “I’ll call you when I fall apart.” The chorus returns in lyrical round, echoing her discontent and stale resilience quite matter of factly. What a way to start the year, with such raw honesty: “‘Cause I’ve been good, I’ve been bad, I’ve been better.”
Her acoustic guitar playing returns with “Blood,” which features familiar Hackman lyrical themes of her body broken down to its simplest components. Offering a view into the depths of love and longing, this song cries for past lovers left too late. “Hanging” delves into the distress of dealing with codependent relationships and adds further context to the lonely soundscape.
This album reflects a nakedness in the cold, and when paired with its pencil drawn album art by Brian McHenry, the collection presents anxiety as an unrequited pit. The cinematic quality of this album is evident in the minimalist “The Lonely House,” as it is the simplest arrangement from this alternative album. The instrumental, with piano alone, resembles a frozen lake. There is frost on the windows, and no one is home. What follows is a wall of vocal harmonies, eventually leading to an electronic bed of sound, eruption of static, and then a frozen moment of near silence. Hackman’s confrontational yet calm vocal delivery permeates the album, inviting introspection reminiscent of the bleak winter in which the album was born into.
Whether supported by alternative orchestration or a single instrument, Hackman’s songs speak to a nameless soul. Hackman introduces this new sonic chapter baring her soul with heart open honesty; saying goodbye to her twenties with allowance for sentimental loose ends. Big Sigh is a chilling presentation of how the season affects so many sensitive souls, leaving us to wonder: where will Marika Hackman be when the warmth returns?