Review: Hookworms, The Hum

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opinion byBRENDAN FRANK

Hookworms are the next in a long line of bands thriving on creating order within chaos.  Making music this methodically unhinged is a balancing act that is very difficult to get right, and Hookworms want you to know it. The British five-piece are notoriously secretive and insular (they are known only as SS, JW, JN, MB and MJ), quietly defecting your attention directly to the tunes. The fact that music this desperate for air has so little context go off of makes it all the more thrilling; just five anonymous blokes from Leeds tightening the screws, honing their craft right into our ears. The group’s sophomore effort, and first for Domino sister company Weird World, has many of the hallmarks of a band that’s ready to break through.

The Hum is louder, sharper and hungrier than its predecessor, 2013’s promising but largely overlooked Pearl Mystic, packed with raw thrills that linger after the noise has subsided. Hookworms may source from the darker, icier corners of psychedelic, garage, post-punk, noise, hardcore et al., but they’re anything but cold or alienating. It is the most heart-racing, involving rock record to reach this reviewer’s ears in some time.

Pearl Mystic was an uncommonly well-realized debut, but Hookworms appears to have learned from it nonetheless. There’s a shrewdness to their songwriting here that gives the distinct impression of a band that is figuring itself out and gaining forward momentum. If The Hum leans more towards pop than Pearl Mystic did, it does so on its own terms. Organ-heavy tracks “Radio Tokyo” and “Beginners” both contain meat-and-potatoes pop hooks, but remain spiky enough to fit into the bigger picture. And there is a bigger picture.

Played uninterrupted, The Hum unfolds episodically, bringing the lines around the band’s sound into clearer focus. As on Pearl Mystic,Hookworms have included three interludes, this time titled “iv”, “v”, and “vi”. Although they often act as extensions of the songs themselves, these pauses in the action balance the record, injecting some nuance and breathing room into an otherwise blistering set.

Of course, there’s more than one way to get a blister, and Hookworms are showing a willingness to branch out and tinker, if only to a certain point. “Off Screen” is almost tender in its convictions, even if its words are largely indecipherable, and closing track “Retreat” splits the difference between “See No Evil” art-punk and Bowie glam. As Hookworms demonstrated with “Away Towards”, they know how to make an entrance. Two parts Fugazi, one part Mogwai, one part Jane’s Addiction, opener “The Impasse” roars out of the gates, spiraling off a stuttering one-note synthline into a giddily frenzied mess.

“The Impasse” aside, however, The Hum thrives on the grooves. The basslines are typically no more than three notes, anchoring the freeform guitar effects crawling out from the mountain of pedals.  Perhaps the most noticeable feature of The Hum is how complete it feels once it’s over. There are no wasted notes, no wasted time, and nothing but the impulse to listen again. True to their name, Hookworms are infectious – in the best way possible.

B+