words by tom johnson
photograph by hollie fernando
Progression shouldn’t ever been seen as a prerequisite of artists and the music they make. There’s plenty to be found and admired in repetition, in the comfort of familiarity, just as there is in wild abandon and boundary-pushing. On first listen, it’s hard to pin-point whether Hookworms third record offers a micro or macro shift in their sound. The record is billed as presenting a “seismic shift” but it also feels wholeheartedly like a Hookworms record – or, indeed, their thrilling live show committed to tape in sublime fashion.
What is true to say, however, is that Microshift certainly feels like their most formidable, their most confident record yet; in all the ways we feel music; through the gut, through the blurring of the senses, through that excited tingle that music has a habit of opening up and bursting apart.
Opening track Negative Space, as opening tracks have a habit of doing, immediately sets the tone, crafting an atmosphere out of nothing, filling the space with colour and power, the very epitome of hedonistic unraveling. “I still hear you every time I’m down,” the vocals wail above a boisterous and brilliantly rhythmic instrumental bedrock. It’s a truly remarkable introduction, an edge-of-the-seat burst of robotic rock and roll that pours forth for some seven-minutes; direct and dynamic.
It’s not all cacophony, however. We’re told this record was borne of the heart and there’s plenty of that here too, little cracks in the armoury that are always essential if a record is really going to matter. And it certainly does. “Each Time We Pass”, a collaboration with Virginia Wing’s Alice Merida Richards might well be the band’s most endearing track to-date, a swirling, somewhat hypnotic break in the clouds. While the closing one-two of the ambient ‘Reunion’ and the swelling ‘Shortcomings’, with its nominative determinism underlining the personal weight buried within the entire record, ensures that the record is remembered as much for its tenderness as its bombast.
It is, perhaps, the marriage of those two extremes that make for the most thrilling moments, however. Take ‘Ullswater’, a scorched seven minutes that melds a throbbing, repetitive bass line with wholesome vocals, the whole thing drifting between wild disco endeavours and that good ol’ solid guitar-band aesthetic that this band are so very, very good at.
It’s often the case that when we really strive for something we end up missing the mark, focusing too much on the desire to achieve, on the glowing end-point, and forget to concentrate on the journey itself, on the smaller pieces that end up making something far greater than its parts, as the old adage goes. Thankfully, whether by desire or design, Hookworms have managed both of these things; to craft a record that has all the small things that linger, the intangible human things that truly connect it to us, and the end-piece is a phenomenal achievement, a dazzling meeting of the head and the heart where they both take centre-stage.