Album Review: Hookworms – Microshift

You’d be forgiven for hearing Microshift, the third album from Leeds 5-piece Hookworms, and wondering if it were even the same group. The jet-engine roar of earlier albums is out; an expansive, synth-driven flirtation with disco is in. If Pearl Mystic and The Hum were a plane taking off, Microshift is looking out the window mid-flight and enjoying the view.

Hookworms - Microshift artwork

Opening with a vocal sample manipulated to sound like a robotic slinky toy, ‘Negative Space’ slowly builds and utterly rewrites the world we thought Hookworms inhabited. Quickly adding a dark-disco bass groove and needle sharp guitars, the band ditch the abrasive scuzz and introduce gorgeous synths. Layered into a majestic soundscape, it’s a swirling, vibrant fog and establishes itself as a contemporary of Django Django’s older albums – but better. Hell, they throw in a Phoenix-esque breakdown which works completely. As far as re-introductions go, this track nails it: Hookworms as we last knew them are gone.

Although, perhaps not completely. Falling back into a more familiar groove on ‘Static Resistance’ but still by no means predictable, krautrock rhythms and churning organs combine to propel the track back into Hookworms’ home territory. Always welcome, frontman MJ’s deft hand on production cleanly steers the track away from becoming a dense mess, caked in scar tissue, and gives each member of the band the space they need. There’s more of a focus on melody than ever before, with sing-along choruses handed directly to the audience rather than disguised behind a wall of distortion.

Eight-and-a-half-minute epic (and confusingly titled) ‘Opener’ sees the band dragged further still into unknown territory, blending their neo-psych noise with the expansive, slow-growing and meticulous perfection of The War On Drugs. Droning guitars and modular synths build interlocking and block-like until it peaks in a resplendent choir of voices chanting together. They pair up Beach House dream-pop with discordant saxophone on back-to-back pair ‘Each Time We Pass’ and ‘Boxing Day’, adding yet more textures to their already bubbling pot.

And whilst all this might make for a spectacular mess in the hands of anyone else, the band cleverly sew a thread of hope through it all that underlies the dark lyrical content. Be it through fizzing flourishes which betray the band’s secret pop ambitions or the incredible vocal performances from MJ that, despite the tales of depression and loss that weave their way through Microshift, are still so determined and relentless, the resolve of the band is incredible. ‘We can’t perceive what we can’t have lost’ appears depressing, but the candid and heartfelt delivery exposes the hope at the heart of it: why even consider what we could’ve lost when we’ve already got so much beauty surrounding us?

Though stylistically surprising, Microshift is undeniably perfect. It finds the group on top form, with a swagger that only adds to the shock of hearing a Hookworms song (perhaps accidentally) aiming for the charts. Abundant in both melodies and hope, but still unafraid to let the darkness in: Microshift in name, major shift in nature.