Female ownership of sexuality is nothing new, not since Madonna’s cone bra or Salt-N-Pepa’s declaration that their activities between the sheets are “None of Your Business.” More often than not, these sex-positive declarations exist in purely heteronormative terms, with any lady-on-lady action fetishized for male pleasure (think Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”). Times are happily a-changing, though, and Marika Hackman’s latest LP, Any Human Friend, provides a hypnotizing case-in-point. Hackman, the folk artist turned synth-rock darling, cares only for the female gaze—the queer female gaze, that is, and more specifically, her own.
Her past efforts have included pointed commentary on our overwhelmingly patriarchal society’s limited views of sex. “Boyfriend,” from her third album, 2017’s I’m Not Your Man, is the most biting example. On the track, Hackman, detailing the story of a woman cheating on her boyfriend with another woman, sarcastically murmurs, “It’s fine ‘cause I am just a girl / ‘It doesn’t count’ / He knows a woman needs a man / To make her shout.”
Her critical eye continues to pierce through societal expectations on Any Human Friend, though this time with even more self-assurance as she decries straight women using her as a sexual experiment on “conventional ride” (by the way, “conventional ride” is a great way to subtly diss the supposed sexual prowess of any straight dude you know). Even on “Hand Solo,” her sultry ode to female masturbation, Hackman slips in a dig at the male-centered view that still dominates the sexual conversation, singing, “Under patriarchal law, I’m going to die a virgin.”
For all the wide-ranging criticism she includes, though, Hackman also makes this album a celebration of “xx sex,” as she puts it on “conventional ride.” In her eyes, jerking it is an almost spiritual pursuit (“I dig for life in the eye of my thighs” she confesses on “hand solo”). She sings lovingly of how “Our mouths were made for eating / Our mouths were made for moaning” on the sweet, sultry rock tune “all night.” Hackman lingers languorously on every word, like she’s tasting each of them before they reach our ears.
Despite her arresting discussions of sapphic sex, though, the most intimate parts of the album ruminate on Hackman’s recent breakup with fellow musician Amber Bain (aka The Japanese House). Hackman has never shied away from exploring the unsavory side of life; she told Paste in 2015 that she has a “fascination… with the darkness that, I believe, exists within everyone.” On Any Human Friend, she lays bare her flaws as she rifles through the rubble of her last relationship. Voices shout Slits-style about Hackman’s perceived faults on “the one”—“You’re such an attention whore!”—while she brags about her big dick energy. “i’m not where you are” shows an apathetic Hackman letting things fall apart with her girlfriend, and the album’s penultimate song, “hold on,” is that last-minute, half-hearted plea in a relationship disintegrating before your very eyes.
“send my love,” the emotional crux of the album and, appropriately, also its longest track, tells Bain’s side of their breakup. “You’re selfish and you’re sore / Are you coming home to play the whore?” Hackman asks herself accusingly. Set to an ‘80s slow dance tune at the beginning, the melody eventually crescendos into a tangled mess of guitar and synth and discordant noise, with Hackman’s singing vocoded into unintelligible sound. The distortion of her vocals hauntingly reflects the breakdown of communication in a doomed relationship.
This album—a treasure trove of zippy guitar hooks, glimmering synths and lemony vocals expertly curated by Hackman—is all about human connection. She hones in on her emotional and sexual connections both to herself and others post-breakup. The truths Hackman discovers along the way, illuminated by songs both inventive and entrancing, are enough to make anyone want to be her human friend (or, at least, a rabid fan).