Hookworm’s have often proved difficult to define musically. Too melodic for noise rock, too loud for psych-rock and too punkish for krautrock, they seem to deliberately oppose labels all together…
Contradicting musical expectations, their new album is by no means any different. If the last albums were drowned in sound, Microshift is struggling to tread water and that’s not a bad thing.
“We felt like we’d made the same record twice already and I think for us to stay together as a band, it was important that we moved forward” MJ said in an interview with Crack magazine towards the end of 2017. Moved forward they have and what a musical feat they’ve achieved, especially when taken in context with events – the band’s studio flooding boxing day 2015, causing a complete write-off of recording equipment. The album is as if Alexis Taylor decided to start a psych rock group and had just bought a lorry-load of KORG-synths to do so.
Single ‘Negative Space’ kicks off the album with a techno-esque intro and a sing-along chorus, a far cry from singles known in past years. No heavy guitar melodies and excessive feedback, what remains still however are the insane synth arrangements and sense of groove the band are always capable of achieving. The track ‘Ullswater’ continues an electronic theme and is arguably the highlight of the album with the lyrics speaking on a poetic level often not heard from Hookworms.
‘Boxing Day’, presumably referencing the bands boxing day flood, has a sense of passion, anger and frustration that permeates the track, complete with distorted guitar lines and feedback that Hookworms are more traditionally known for. ‘The Soft Season’ and album finale ‘Shortcomings’ hint at Friendly Fires and suggest a return to indie dance tracks best known from the mid-noughties.
Overall, the album is no easier to label than previous works, but does lean more generically into the electronic realm. What remains is the sense of groove and shear noise the band are capable of, but maybe this album is a little less experimental and a little more universal. The vocals are less strained than previous works, less like MJ is combating with the ordeal of having a cheese-grater stuck down his throat and yet still powerful enough to strike a moving chord in the listener’s ears. Unlike older albums such as The Hum and Pearl Mystic the vocals aren’t hidden behind a wall of distortion and are brought forward in the mix, arguably suggesting (maybe accidentally) a more commercial move for the band. This is not to suggest MB, MJ, JN, SS and JW have secret pop aspirations, but hints at an evolution of sound and a more generic band development.