In a year where each day seems to bring some new gloom, the familiar comfort of our favourite old songs has been more important than ever. New music might have provided a welcome distraction from coronavirus spikes and swarms of murder hornets but, when life as you know it has been thrown off its axis, past sonic loves have offered a way to cling onto what once was.
On her fourth album, Marika Hackman straddles the line between those well-known tunes and something fresher. ‘Covers’ is what it says on the tin – it’s a record filled with other people’s songs, with one key difference. Instead of sticking faithfully to the blueprints laid out by artists as disparate as The Shins and Beyoncé, the London-based singer-songwriter delved deep into them, giving them her own quarantine makeover.
Unlike the DIY fringe job you hacked at with kitchen scissors, the results are gorgeous. While all the songs featured are altered from their original state, some don’t stray as far as others. The opener, an austere take on Radiohead’s 1994 track ‘You Never Wash Up After Yourself’, sees her swap arpeggiated guitar for a gentle piano and an unsettling insect buzz, though the two renditions shares the same melancholic spirit. With her take on Elliott Smith’s ‘Between The Bars’, Hackman fleshes out the cult musician’s guitar-and-vocals original, a soft beat fading in and out, sometimes joined by spectral drones.
Others, though, undergo radical reinventions. On her 2015 album ‘Art Angels’, Grimes crafted sublime, futuristic electronic-pop, with ‘Realiti’ a standout. On ‘Covers’, Hackman presents an unrecognisable version of the song – its bright rushes replaced with layers of subdued strings and serene harp ripples. ‘Pink Light’, originally a sad banger by LA trio Muna, becomes muted and frosty, while Beyoncé’s ‘All Night’ flips from an Outkast-sampling, juddering ballad and lands on far starker ground; Hackman strips things back to a skeleton of dragging waves of sound and layers of vocals.
Created in lockdown, ’Covers’ offered Hackman a way to stay creative without pressuring herself to find the inspiration to write a record from scratch in this stifling time. Intimate and inventive, it’s a beautiful exercise – and one that could provide a bridge between last year’s ‘Any Human Friend’ and the musician’s planned return to melancholic material on her next original work. For now, though, she’s given us a rich new world burrow into, filled with soothing familiarity but brimming with the excitement of the new.
Release date: November 13, 2020