The cover of Marika Hackman’s third album I’m Not Your Man is a beautifully lopsided pastel-clip art nightmare. But even with all the off-green tinting, and a strangely ominous partially chopped cucumber in the background, it’s Hackman’s figure on the front that grabs your eye. Verging on uncanny-valley territory, Hackman’s glossy eyes and porcelain facial features give her the appearance of a wax statue seconds away from coming to life. This not-quite-blank expression and tight framing leaves the feeling of uncomfortable ambiguity, and with the songs contained therein, Hackman’s soothing, often angelic voice serves the same context—providing a lushness for the undercurrents of anxiety and discomfort hidden beneath a gorgeous façade.
I’m Not Your Man finds Hackman mastering the art of subverting her flawless voice with violence, rage, and mystery. On lead single “Boyfriend,” Hackman airs her frustration with the view that lesbian relationships are somehow “lesser,” nearly whispering in the pre-chorus, “Heaven knows we’re meant to be/But it’s turned into a mess/No one takes us seriously just because I wear a dress.” By the end of the song, the hypnotic guitar hook and crashing drums play back up to Hackman’s literal screams. “My Lover Cindy” breaks its seemingly out of place jangle-pop tone with Hackman singing, “’Cause I’m a greedy pig/I’m gonna get my fill/I’m gonna keep my eyes on the prize/And I’ll suck you dry, I will.” The thick, single strummed guitar chords just barely exist underneath biting lyrics sung so effortlessly and not hiding behind the intrinsic irony of such emotional self-deprecation.
While the album is led by Hackman’s propulsive full band hits, the slow burners contain just as much angst and anger, and call back to her previous work’s more synth-heavy sound and acoustic guitar base. “Cigarette” combines the gentle finger picking of modern folk acts like Fleet Foxes with choir-like keyboard swells, creating beautiful soundscapes as Hackman focuses on a night out gone horribly wrong. And tracks like “I’d Rather Be With Them” highlight Hackman’s proclivity for emo-revival lyricism, singing in the song’s bridge, “I’m so fucking heartless/I can’t even cry/I’ve opened up my body and it’s hollow inside,” followed by, “So ring up my parents/And tell them I’m dead.” But that last threat isn’t a gimmick, and it’s not even really subversive. Whereas a weaker singer/songwriter might decide to deliver such lines with an on-the-nose cheekiness, Hackman is able to fully embody irritation, confusion, and whole-hearted sincerity. There is one strictly sensual love song on the album, that being “Violet,” a floating, carnal come-on akin to the less subtler tracks of bands like The Last Shadow Puppets. “I love your mouth,” Hackman repeats, savoring every word as she breathes in deep before each cooing take. The song’s desperation for some kind of sensation by any means possible is inherent in its completely tactile recording. But it’s not hedonistic, or drenched in thrill-seeking. If anything, Hackman’s words ring true in a world where numbness can be a survival technique, and it reinforces I’m Not Your Man as the proper arrival for this bold, young British force.