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Music Hookworms

Published on February 9th, 2018 | by voxx

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Hookworms – Microshift

The former heads-down psych act get into their heads for album three…

Gone is the Space Echo effect and its burnished yelp that defined Hookworms’ earlier work. Microshift is named for the plug-in that Hookworms singer MJ used to treat his vocals across the Leeds band’s third album. This nerdy information will appeal to the Hookworms hardcore. Having partially amassed an audience through performing at various international psych fests, they’re perhaps more likely to attract fans interested in the minutiae of their complex pedal board arrangements than their emotional bandwidth. But Microshift doesn’t just nod to Hookworms’ updated tech spec; it also hints at a wider evolution in sound and intimacy.

The three years since Hookworms released The Hum were transformative in ways good and bad. Live shows with Richard Formby and Karen Gwyer encouraged them to bring synth whiz MB’s proggy, modular textures to the fore, and pare back on their old roaring organs and hurtling motorik. But they also suffered untold setbacks. A visa issue aborted an entire US tour, leaving them in the hole financially – and that was before MJ’s Suburban Home Studios suffered a devastating flood on Boxing Day 2015. Relationships ended, friends died, family members became ill. Microshift sets MJ’s regrets surrounding these granular losses against a progressive new vision of the band.

“Indie band embraces synths” is a common and often cynical move, and Hookworms do pull some undeniably familiar shapes on Microshift. The needling synths and disco smack of ‘Negative Space’ recall Factory Floor’s first record for DFA, and the wistful crescendos of ‘Opener’ evoke both the romance of Phoenix and the relentlessness of Michael Rother’s solo work. They may be somewhat derivative, but they’re still deeply satisfying. The former peaks around MJ’s desperate howls over the end of a relationship (“how long’s forever?”), and the latter offers a warm, coaxing atmosphere as he persuades a male friend to open up.

Elsewhere, MB’s sound design is always yoked to strong pop songcraft, and the five-piece understand where to leave space to let their intricate, insightful synth explorations shine. The acid squelch of ‘Ullswater’ sounds like a disco in a wet bog, all satisfyingly bubbling and syncopated, and the organic, modular backdrops to ‘The Soft Season’ and ‘Each Time We Pass’ provide a human setting for MJ’s raw lyrics, properly audible for the first time on a Hookworms record.

His main theme is permanence: coming to terms with a lost love (‘Static Resistance’) and losing someone to a degenerative illness (‘Ullswater’); the mudslide that ruined his studio similarly obliterates his sense of self on the terse Boxing Day, which churns with saxophone squall. Hookworms have always made music for the heads, but Microshift is their first record from the heart – an unusual yet utterly coherent balance of tenderness and euphoria, vulnerability and invention.

- By Jake White


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