|Hookworms||Microshift (Feb. 2, 2018)|
Hookworms — Microshift (Feb. 2, 2018) • Každý, kdo se seznámí s Hookworms z města Leeds, bude vědět, že za dychtivým konzumerizmem v jeho útrobách leží pěkně utajená, ostře vzdorovitá, podzemní a nezávislá scéna, anarchistická i soběstačná.
• Given the band’s attention to detail and overall approach to the aesthetics associated with their art, I imagine their live show is something to behold. Forget everything you know about Hookworms. Ok, maybe not everything; the urgency and viscera both live and on record that led the five~piece to prominence across two blistering full~length LPs — 2013’s Pearl Mystic and 2014 follow~up The Hum — remains. However, as they return with their much~anticipated third record Microshift, the title of the record connotates more than just the intended nod to the audio plug~in their vocalist MJ regularly uses; it could also be an understatement of a three~year narrative that’s brought about changing circumstances, influences and subsequent evolution.Location: Leeds, UK
Album release: Feb. 2, 2018
Record Label: Domino
01. Negative Space 6:57
02. Static Resistance 3:49
03. Ullswater 7:08
04. The Soft Season 4:01
05. Opener 8:37
06. Each Time We Pass 5:16
07. Boxing Day 2:19
08. Reunion 2:51
09. Shortcomings 5:41
by Max Pilley January 31st, 2018 / Score: 9
• It is always a fascinating moment when an artist steps out from behind a career~long shroud. For Leeds band Hookworms, you can understand why this was the moment. It has been over three years since their last record, a time that has been filled with frustration and tragedy. A North American tour hit the rocks when bureaucratic visa goblins struck and months later the home studio of keyboardist and vocalist Matthew ‘MJ’ Johnson was flooded, leaving the band out of pocket and inspiration. MJ is one of the country’s most sought~after indie producers, so the setback was all the greater.
• The time out has seen the band transform. Where previous records were doused in feedback and thick layers of noise, Microshift is full of space and sharpness. The comeback single ‘Negative Space’ is a masterpiece of production: a maximal, DFA~flavoured playland, driven by drums that make it sound like a hand from above is physically pounding the reverb~laden fog of the first two albums out of the system. The air is clear and the sound handcrafted, with MJ’s vocals soaring high and true. It is pulsing, kinetic and emotionally expressive, with lyrics that appear to tackle mental health, a subject about which MJ has rarely been so candid in his music. It’s far more than a microshift, that’s for sure. The recurring line, “I still hear you every time I’m down” is bittersweet as he sings of being forced to live in the negative space, culminating in a howl of “how long’s forever?”
• In some ways, ‘Negative Space’ isn't too representative, but the signals were there, in particular the bloopy, modular synth intro and the sparkling vocal clarity. The seven~minute ‘Ullswater’ is the second of three monster tracks that act as the pillars holding ‘Microshift’ aloft, well clear of most other records that 2018 will produce. Its studio~created sonic palette of electronic sounds is the new default for Hookworms, but it’s a discipline that comes apart at the edges near the track’s climax, with MJ’s screaming, primal crescendo of “I’ll always love you/It’s the last thing I’ll say/I know it’s the last thing I’ll do/Stay strong”. Even longer is the galloping, head~spinning ‘Opener’, the third centrepiece. “It’s hard to find a better world/Where we can count up all the shortcomings/Oppress them until they’re hidden/Or just let it all out,” is MJ’s existential cry this time. For an album burdened with such heavy subject matter, it’s remarkable how uplifting a listening experience it is.
• The latter two tracks are separated by the gorgeous and heartbroken ‘The Soft Season’, reminiscent of no less a band than Spiritualized, a song whose subject is hiding their desire, only to be betrayed by the expression on their face. It is in every way a million miles from ‘Pearl Mystic’ or ‘The Hum’, as is ‘Each Time We Pass’, which is what an A~Ha song might sound like if it had been left alone in a damp cave to fight for its survival thirty years ago and is just now braving the outside again, blinking in the light, mutated and mangled but still with the same sweetness in its heart.
• Only once does the painful experience of the studio flood bleed into the record, on ‘Boxing Day’, named for the day in 2015 when the River Aire’s banks broke. Screeching brass and furious guitar stabs litter the track, a self~contained two minute purge of anger. It is twinned with the following track ‘Reunion’, the calm that followed the storm. One imagines the reunion in question is between band and studio, and accordingly the track is beaming with love.
• You would have to search far and wide to find a transformation in an already great band that works as well as this. The key to it all is the vulnerability that MJ is now willing to put on display, giving the newfound musical incisiveness the emotional fuel it needs to really fly. If this isn’t one of the albums of the year then we must be in for something special. • http://drownedinsound.com/
Alexis Petridis, Thu 1 Feb 2018 12.00 GMT Last modified on Sat 3 Feb 2018 12.58 GMT / Score: *****
Hookworms: Microshift review — vast leap forward into a psychedelic future
• On their third album, the Leeds band shed some distortion to reveal powerful vocals and tough pop melodies — without sacrificing any intensity.
• Artists often have a tendency to make heavy weather out of recording albums. We’ve all read the features, invariably headlined TO HELL AND BACK, replete with loudly expressed comparisons to “being in the trenches”, “on the last helicopter out of Saigon” or to scenes of unimaginable terror and desperation it usually turns out were provoked by taking some drugs, occasionally arguing over the mixing and overrunning their allotted time in the studio. But by anyone’s standards, the making of Hookworms’ third album was a fraught affair, affected by everything from extreme weather events — their Leeds studio was almost destroyed in a flood — to physical and mental illness: frontman Matthew Johnson has always been open about his struggle with depression.
• Anyone familiar with Hookworms’ previous releases may think they know what to expect musically from Microshift. A band with modest commercial ambitions — the quintet have no management and have declined to give up their day jobs to pursue music full~time — they have nevertheless attracted critical acclaim by honing a dark, fraught, fuzz~drenched sound, equally rooted in the cyclical repetitions of krautrock and Spacemen 3 as the roaring noise of US post~hardcore punk. It has often attracted the label “psychedelic”, but if it recalls music from the 60s at all, it isn’t the beatific relax~and~float~downstream soundtrack of the Summer of Love, but the more obscure and disturbing stuff that came just before it.
• Emotionally, at least, their first two albums seemed more in tune with the frenzied, hyper~distorted freakbeat tracks by the Buzz and the Syndicats that Joe Meek produced during his final descent into psychosis. Similarly, the flop singles made by hard~hitting mod bands who responded to LSD not with codified flower~power platitudes, but tumultuous, chaotic music that sounded overwhelmed, even terrified by the experience: the Game’s Help Me, Mummy’s Gone or the Voice’s The Train to Disaster. Given the circumstances of Microshift’s creation, more of the same, only more so, seems a given.
• But it isn’t. From its opening seconds — when a track called Negative Space kicks into life with a rhythm track influenced by early 80s electro — it becomes clear that Hookworms have done the opposite of what you might reasonably assume. Microshift is a vast and extremely bold sonic leap forward. The thick crust of distortion that coated their earlier releases has been removed, revealing two startling finds previously buried deep within it.
• The first is that Johnson, an unwilling frontman apparently so underwhelmed by his own vocal abilities that he went out of his way to conceal them, has a fantastic voice, yearning, open, unaffected and really powerful, capable of delivering a succession of starkly affecting lyrical sucker punches. Frequently hemmed in by his own misery — “I’m feeling awful,” he sings on Static Resistance, “I can’t last the distance” — he keeps willing himself to go on nonetheless: “Just let it all out, don’t fall under,” cautions Opener.
• The second is Hookworms’ melodic facility. Easy to miss amid the tumultuous, echoing din of their debut, Pearl Mystic, and its 2014 successor, The Hum, it suddenly finds itself in the spotlight. Opener is a tight, tough pop song underpinned by a Kraftwerk~ish rhythm track that gradually unfurls into a joyous climax; closer Shortcomings has a fabulous chorus; The Soft Season is beautiful in a way that nothing they’ve recorded before has been: spectral, and spectacular with it.
• For all the broadening of their sound, not everything has changed. The bass and drums still regularly settle into a forceful, wired, Neu!~like groove, the organ still plays two~chord patterns that recall Suicide by way of Spacemen 3, and something of the ambience of their earlier work hangs over the murky Boxing Day, its monotone vocal interrupted by bursts of noise that sound like samples grabbed at random from a free jazz album. The grasp of dynamics that makes their live shows such powerful, cathartic affairs is still much in evidence: Ullswater’s awkward time signature lends a sense of unease to its epic, sweeping sound; songs elide into each other via passages of shimmering synthesizer tones; Negative Space is gradually lost beneath an electronic swirl.
• The world is full of noisy left~field art~rock bands grumpily protesting in interviews that of course they could write pop songs if they wanted to: as it turns out, Hookworms genuinely can. Moreover, they can do it without losing any of the potency or essence of their past work. Microshift manages to be both their most accessible work and their most intense: the sound of an already powerful band gaining not just clarity, but focus.
By Chris Todd / 29 JANUARY 2018, 11:37 GMT / Score: 9
|Hookworms||Microshift (Feb. 2, 2018)|