Hookworms Microshift Domino
In their early records and live shows, Hookworms became a totemic presence in modern psychedelia. They weren’t reinventing the wheel, but in their hands, the old unrelenting weapons of organs and feedback sounded as vital as ever and I would eagerly slurp up any recording of their catatonic swell. Imagine my excitement then, when I heard that Microshift – their first album in three years – was complete and ready for release.
Less than a minute in, it’s clear this is a very different Hookworms. Gone is the deafening din that characterises most of their work to date. On Negative Space, the seven-minute opening track and lead single, singer MJ’s voice stands bare and dry, and squelchy analogue synths replace the screechy howl of their guitars. As the track erupts into its second act, it becomes a sort of euphoric release of tension, bright and emotional. It’s a brave shift. This airy palette is the album’s prevailing mood throughout, while the lyrics are unequivocally wistful and confessional. On Ullswater they reach Springsteen levels of uplift while pulling off that magic trick of great pop music: a blank canvas onto which the listener can project the objects of their own emotional tussles. “30 years and 30 questions/ But now you can’t reply/ I hate that this is done,” MJ sings.
But at this point, Microshift feels too saccharine. I ended up wishing that the squealing rattle of Boxing Day or the sombre tones of Reunion, had been given as much time as the sweeter-sounding tracks. Others, like album closer Shortcomings, just fail to land. There are moments on this record that are genuinely thrilling – particularly in the first half – and bands should be encouraged to try something new. But ultimately, Microshift’s bright sound might leave you pining for shadier textures.