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Marika Hackman brings Big Sigh's lofty and immense nature back down to earth

"Big Sigh"

Release date: 12 January 2024
Marika Hackman Big Sigh cover
13 January 2024, 10:45 Written by Ims Taylor

Big Sigh is Marika Hackman’s most fully realised effort yet, marrying musical prowess, sparkling sonic variety, and striking songwriting.

Hackman maintains control of seemingly hundreds of threads in the tapestry of Big Sigh, ensuring that each one weaves in where it needs to. Most immediately awe-inspiring, on album opener “The Ground” and then continuing to ebb and flow throughout the whole of Big Sigh, are the sweeping orchestral instrumentations. An influx of strings over a twinkle of piano, a sprawling melody that sounds somewhere between a flute and a Pink Floyd-esque electric guitar; Hackman situates us in the world of Big Sigh with cinematic soundtracking, only a distorted whisper of vocal to be heard. She continues to use immense swells of classical instrumentation to punctuate the stories of Big Sigh to great effect, dreamily, anxiously building up the textures of self she describes on “Hanging”; strings darting in and out of frame on “Vitamins” in between murmured reflections.

A lot of Big Sigh sounds lofty, complex and immense – but Hackman’s relentlessly sharp lyricism draws it all back down to earth, condensing all the emotion summoned through the sounds into a single point. She looks at the eclipse of her life, the last decade of living, loving, and making music through a pinhole camera and writes appropriately intimately. “No Caffeine” is as funny as it is harsh, a to-do list ranging from “make a herbal tea” to “stay away from love”. It’s particularly resonant as a January release, Hackman deftly encapsulating exactly that New Year’s feeling when you grasp at straws, try to reinvent yourself and improve yourself in every conceivable way but end up spiralling helplessly further into panic. The dense, downward-swirling instrumental drowns out the list of instructions, and Hackman ends the song in the middle of a sentence – no resolution.

Her observational lyrics play off the magnitude of the musical backdrop gorgeously, adding weight to both. But they also add weight to Hackman’s more abstract, poetic lyrics, which are sensory and abrasive, using her words as a vehicle for feeling as much as her voice and all her instruments. The Big Sigh – the release that gives the album its title – comes at the end of an album laden with lines that cause your chest to tighten, pressure to build in your insides, an onomatopoeic listening experience. Hackman sings about growing pains, blisters and parasitic consumption in “Blood”, desire, stickiness and sex in “Slime”. Hackman closes the record with some of her best, on a simple, folky return-to-form on “The Yellow Mile”, in which she undergoes a Kafkaesque transformation from woman to insect back to woman to expansive, buried-bones outro.

And then, exhale. The album fades out gently, a dissipation of tension and emotion that you don’t realise is cathartic until it’s over – for this reason, Big Sigh doesn’t just feel like Hackman’s best, but it feels like a distinct chapter marker in her catalogue. She closes the last decade stunningly, and nudges open the next.

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