Hookworms - Microshift - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Hookworms - Microshift

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:2018-02-02
Hookworms - Microshift
Hookworms - Microshift

The release of lead-single ‘Negative Space’ gave us some clues yet hearing Hookworms latest album in full is still something of a revelation. Microshift finds the band pushing into new territory and sounding all the more confident for it. We no doubt would have been satisfied with a repeat of Pearl Mystic or The Hum but Hookworms are far too creative, far too excited by the prospect of new sounds to simply repeat themselves.

The genesis of Microshift lies in a particularly difficult few years for the band. Relationships came to an end, family members became ill and the bands friend and live sound engineer, Archie, passed away. On top of this the bands studio and MJ’s livelihood, Suburban Home, was devastated by the floods in 2015.

The album is certainly informed by all of these events yet it’s the feeling of defiance and hope in the face of disaster that comes through the strongest. The bands studio was saved by a phenomenal GoFundMe campaign, helping them to plough through. This is the sound of a band letting their barriers down and, as we’ve come to expect from Hookworms, giving it their all.

Musically the LP finds the band embracing synths and electronica like never before. This much should have been apparent from ‘Negative Space’ yet that fresh, spacious sound permeates throughout the album. Where Peal Mystic highlights such as the reverb-soaked ‘Preservation’ revelled in a feeling of claustrophobia and catharsis, Microshift explores a clearer, more open sound.

Crucially, MJ’s vocals are brought to the fore; revealing not just the strength of his performance but the lyrics. This helps bring a new tenderness to the band’s music with MJ telling us early on, during the belting ‘Static Resistance’, “there’s nothing wrong with being fragile in life”. Unlike some other acts given the psych-rock label, there’s no lazily recounted tales of excess and debauchery to be found here. There’s nothing really wrong with them but psychedelic clichés have never been Hookworms style.

Microshift contains some of the gentlest music in the bands repertoire with the warm, tender balladry of ‘The Soft Season’ and the hypnotic ‘Each Time We Pass’. The latter finds Virginia Wing vocalist Alice Merida Richards adding some particularly dreamy vocals as the songs gentle electronica blooms all around her. This is glorious, widescreen pop music.

Every song seems to try something new, the experimentation feeling joyous and natural.  ‘Boxing Day’ features Xam Duo’s Chris Duffin and some blistering, Kid A-esque saxophones while ‘Shortcomings’ combines lyrics about isolation with a glorious melody and a subtly  funky rhythm section. Elsewhere the 8 minute long ‘Opener’ finds the band collaborating with Spaceman 3 producer Richard Formby;  ambient drones and guitars building into something wide-eyed, urgent and hopeful.

For me it’s ‘Ullswater’ that shines the brightest; a squelchy, danceable electronic beat propelling a euphoric and ever-soaring melody. The song explores the effects of Alzheimer’s on a loved one with a compassionate, tender and deeply heartfelt lyric. Anyone who’s experienced the effects Alzheimer’s can have on a loved one and those around them will understand. The song ends with MJ urging us to “stay strong”.

For all the difficult subject matter Microshift is an album of hope, resilience and finding comfort. It’s genuinely inspiring. Hookworms haven’t put a foot wrong since emerging with their self-titled debut EP yet this album sees them take a bigger step forward than anyone could have reasonably predicted. A creative highpoint and one of the most emotionally engaging albums I’ve heard in some time. A real achievement and something I’ll be listening to for years to come.

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Andy - great review of an amazing album. It gets better with each listen.

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