HOOKWORMS

 

As many as 11% of people can hear The Hum. Reported in the UK and USA since the 1940’s, the phenomena of these invasive low-frequency drones - responsible for insanity and, in extreme cases, even suicide - has many theories ranging from mechanical instruments to the clash of ocean waves, but nevertheless remains that rarest of things: an unexplainable anomaly.


Hookworms’ reputation, like The Hum itself, lies in the drone and the uncontrollable constants of their music that remain even after they’ve shattered its thick atmosphere with sharp punches of proto-punk-inspired malevolence. Flinging themselves into the public’s consciousness with 2013’s Pearl Mystic, the debut LP’s perfect storm of billowing textures and napalm-filled Modern Lovers licks was one of the most-acclaimed albums of the year – receiving plaudits from The Guardian, Uncut, the BBC, NME, Drowned in Sound, Loud & Quiet (it was the latter twos Album of the Year) and many others.


Eighteen months on, The Hum in some way deals with the fallout from that period, where a bunch of friends merged together in Leeds through a shared love of Nuggets-era garage rock and Washington DC hardcore, found themselves dragged from vocalist, keyboard player and producer MJ’s Suburban Home Studios and into the glaring light. For a group who still keep the process of being a band so self-contained – managing themselves, going by their initials in public, and continuing to work day jobs to allow music to remain a passion and an escape – the sudden interest was a challenge as much it was a pleasure.


“We were writing Pearl Mystic to an audience in the same way your diary has an audience,” says guitarist, SS. “It’s written to one but if no one ever reads it that’s not a big deal. But after that, we knew we had a really clear audience for this record. So The Hum is really about different freedoms and constraint." Hookworms have forged their personality now; as MJ says “it’s like that bit on Fugazi’s Instrument documentary where Brendan Canty says that a jam they’ve got sounds ‘good, but not Fugazi’ – we sound more like Hookworms rather than anyone else on this record.” Within that though the fat’s been trimmed, the delay pedals dialled down and reverb stripped back, allowing bold pop melodies and hooks to burst forth in their place.


Opener ‘The Impasse’ is the closest Hookworms have sounded to their punk roots, a two-and-a-half minute-long garage rock explosion that sees MJ’s vocals pushed to distortion. Intentionally juxtaposing the near nine-minute opener of their previous record, it sets the stall out for an album that hurtles through with barely a glance backwards. The release and repetition of their previous material remains – most notably on the call and response vocals and sniping guitars of the portentous ‘On Leaving’ – but this is a record that goes for the jugular. Those who heard scorched ‘Radio Tokyo’ last year, will recognise it here again, sounding like a long-lost emission from late 60’s Detroit. First conceived around the making of their first record, it became addictive to the band, ultimately becoming the starting point for The Hum. “We got so excited playing that track live,” recalls bassist MB. “It made people move and that was something we wanted more of. Going to see acts like Factory Floor and watching how people react to them was really inspiring.”


That will reaches its apex on album centre-piece ‘Beginners’, built around a scuttling series of electronic transmissions and brutally simple percussion that goads the track into opening up into a torrent of guttural guitar. Helping them realise their ambitions in mid-2012 was a change in personnel that saw JN join the group on drums. The unremitting nature of his no-holds-barred playing kicks The Hum up and down until its bruised crimson, punching holes through the pooling textural layers at a ceaseless tempo. “Rhythmically I come from punk rock and I think that’s come across in the record,” says JN, who joined Hookworms after several of the band regularly turned up to shows featuring his other bands. “It was a bit like they were keeping tabs on me” he jokes.


Thematically The Hum is a record that feels as though it’s come out of the other side of the dark psychological conflicts of Pearl Mystic. MJ is more reticent on the songs’ content this time round, though admits “there are some dark moments still. ‘On Leaving’ is about the loss of a friend; ‘Off Screen’ is probably the most depressing song on the record – it’s intended to stand apart from the rest of the album.” ‘Off Screen’ is the sole break in pace among 35 blistering minutes, tidal in the way it rolls over on itself through more than seven emotively fragile minutes.


Yet this is a pop record at heart, made emphatically explicit by the ebullient finale of ‘Retreat’ – as MB puts it “a big ‘Yeah!’ moment.” Infectious from the off, it only itches further as it builds before exploding in delirium, MJ’s calls of “you got me thinking about the impasse in the wind” neatly sending the album full circle. Hookworms, however, are only heading forwards.