Northern Transmissions review of 'Microshift' by Hookworms


Bursting out of the biting gusts of the Northern English winter and into the music
scene once again to charm the psychedelic hell out of listeners, the boys from Leeds
present us with a kaleidoscope of myriad wonders. Four years since the release of The
Hum and half a decade after the release of their debut album Pearl Mystic – a
collection met with high critical acclaim, appearances at number 1 and a huge
increase in fans – the five acronymic musicians comprising the troupe have evidently
worked profusely, and intelligently, to create a reflective and heartbreakingly realist
sequence. Drawing influences from disparate sources – music as far flung from rock
as Electronica and Techno – it interlaces ostensibly opposing genres to form a fresher,
more relatable form of psychedelic rock.

Employing electronic keyboards and organs, myriad sound effects, a weighty array of
stringed instruments and the immense vocal range of band leader MJ, the group has
succeeded in reformulating a supposedly outmoded genre for contemporary listeners.
Within the range of nine songs, the band succeed in grasping the appealing emblems
of the genre tightly – the warbling sound effects, intricate guitar playing and fade outs
– and rejuvenating its more antiquated tropes – airy vocals and light baselines – with
modern influences of techno and electro. Against this musical backdrop unfolds a
powerful narrative of loss, pain and acceptance, crafted with exquisite lyricism and
astute observations and made all the more digestible by its attractive scenery.

Robotic sound effects, notes from an electric keyboard and clattering sound effects
knit together surprisingly well, forming a sturdy foundation for the chilling organ
chords that dominate opening track “Negative Space”. Crafty techno concoctions ping
against the electronic organ during a fiery song opening that burns slowly enough to
depict a micro vision of New Order’s timeless “Blue Monday” anthem. Luckily for
the new kids on the well-trodden block, emphatic singing and the arrival of weighty
guitars towards later on in the track demarcate the separation between their own
stylistic character and that of the Electronica pioneers. Not bad work for a piece
lasting over five minutes.

Portraying a vivid image of euphoria, “Static Resistance” introduces a more positive
vibe to the album, injecting its techno-drenched style with the summery pop-punk
sound that governed the late 90s. A lengthy fade-out sees a reprise of the electronic
organ, a tool that – in contrast to the track’s predecessor –generates an elegiac tone; a
feeling of mourning for the disappearance of fleeting joy.

Immediately after its plaintive end, however, “Ullswater” thrusts the album back into
its original territory of techno. Initiated by heavy, HEAVY techno and sonic emblems
of Electronica, the track opens with overt front man MJ and his soothing vocals
liberates the sequence from this seemingly harsh domain of post rock before gently
lulling into the neo psychedelia lying at the core of the band’s style. It is not long,
therefore, until refrains – namely the short, sharp corker ‘Can you comfort me?’ – are
bandied around in an emotional chorus of shouting, and the seeds for an iconic
festival performance are sewn.

Psychedelic notes are ramped up in the following “The Soft Season”, where airy
vocals, an electronic keyboard and incongruous notes of euphoria reinsert the
abundant sorrow in which “Ullswater” culminates. The pinnacle of tranquil reflection,
it replicates the cosmic landscape of the band’s debut collection Pearl Mystic –

fortifying its wonder. Fading electro warbling portray a speaker deep in contemplation
as mellow brass laces the track with the sting of saying goodbye to something forever,
marking a salute to the pensive nature of post modern art. Such an ambient focus does
not return until penultimate piece “Reuinion” [sic], where electro keys fall gently onto
a peaceful baseline laced with entrancing saxophone and twinkling sound effects to
create an oneric landscape.

“Each Time We Pass”, similarly, weaves an auditory narrative of idyllic, folk-esque
summers unfolding myriad splendours of nature to the speaker, a scene rendered all
the more credible by the sound effect of tweeting birds resonating throughout the
track. Lyrics that soon reveal ever pertinent theme of heartbreak enable a seemingly
effortless disconnect between form and content, forming a masterfully haunting
juxtaposition that undercuts the illusion of fantasy.

Contrasting even more heavily with the overarching electro theme dominating the
sequence, “Boxing Day” – with its screeching guitar riffs, blatant instrumental
discordance and soulless monotony of drums – induces a fervency of the post punk
rock that continues to dominate the alternative music scene; the dissonance of The
Horrors coalesced with a chilling interpretation of neo psychedelic rock. Its abruptly
unannounced climax finalises its conscious diversion from the intense examination of
human emotion that fuels the overarching narrative of the album.

Crescendos constructed entirely by electro notes mark a close resemblance between
“Opener” and the post pop-cum- punk style of Crocodiles, before a tight fusion of old
school techno (80s enough to conjure up the sound of early Ultravox) – recalling the
electro drive of album opener “Negative Space” – and indie instrumentalism conveys
a pang of melancholy similar to the underlying sting of the San Diego group’s debut
release Summer of Hate.

Enveloping Beatles-esque hazy vocals, lyrical poignancy and unifying refrains within
the final act of this compelling performance of love and hurt, the band purposefully
leave the listener unsatisfied. The speaker in “Shortcomings” apologises profusely to
an absent lover for his lack of affection, crying out for what seems like painfully
unattainable forgiveness, and ‘disconnected’ is thrown across the song with abandon,
illustrating the lack of resolution found at the end of the sequence. It serves for a
thoroughly unsatisfying narrative ending.

This conclusion, however, with its vigorous emphasis on dispirited vocals and
lyricism, illuminates one of art’s most precious – and most forgotten – elements: its
capacity for questioning. No sense of overcoming concludes the album because a
bathetic ending lasts longer in the listener’s consciousness than a happy one. This is
musical – and artistic genius – at its sharpest. Well Done, Hookworms.

review by Beth Andralojc