2014 has been a really excellent year for psych/ related releases and this second full-length album by Hookworms is one of the most eagerly awaited. It is an album that I have been listening to for a few weeks now and I have not wanted to rush to any judgements about it because I wanted to really get into it. Having now heard it quite a few times I am really coming to the decision that it is very good, and a step up from the band’s debut release, Pearl Mystic.
My review of Pearl Mystic was the first that I did for Backseatmafia and Hookworms were one of the first of the current crop of psych bands that I got into, living in Leeds at the time when they emerged as if from some sort of primordial fuzz. I loved Pearl Mystic when it came out, and it was one of my albums of the year last year. However, when I think about it I’ve not actually played it that much. Sure tracks like ‘Form and Function’, ‘Away/ Towards’ and ‘Preservation’ have made it onto lots of playlists; but I have not listened to it much as a complete album often preferring to watch YouTube clips of the band live. Indeed, although I said in my original review that I thought that Hookworms managed to capture their live show in Pearl Mystic I feel that the band have developed so much live that the have rather left their debut release behind. They are really one of the best live bands around.
The other reason as to why I haven’t listen to Pearl Mystic that much is due to what feels like a marked increase in the quality of releases in the eighteen months since that album was released. As a result my perception is that The Hum is coming out in the midst of an increasingly vibrant scene: so many albums but only one turntable and one pair of ears. Add to this the fact that the new album is coming out on a larger label (Weird World Record Co., a division of Domino) and there are a lot of potential pressure points for Hookworms.
Whether the band have felt this is perhaps moot, and the band’s members certainly have enough alternate projects between them to relieve any pressure that may be heaped on them by the considerable expectation of this release.
When Pearl Mystic came out, those of us who reviewed it were very keen to pigeonhole Hookworms and compare them to various bands, most notably Hawkwind (I went for The Fall, The Doors and T-Rex). This time round I feel no such compulsion. This sounds like a Hookworms record from the outset. From the electronic pulse of the opener ‘Impasse’ breaking in to a full on Hookworms style assault on the ears, you are left in no doubt that who this album is by. It’s exciting, visceral and takes no prisoners as it segues into ‘On Leaving’ which already begins to give a clue that this album is going to be more nuanced than ‘Pearl Mystic’ and, with MJ’s vocals much higher in the mix, a more confident assertion of what the band stand for.
Next up comes ‘iv’, an instrumental bridge similar to those on the first album, the continuity being marked by the numbering. Taking the album as a whole I feel that ‘iv’, ‘v’, and ‘vi’ are much better integrated than their counterparts were on Pearl Mystic, and nowhere better than ‘iv’ in building up the tension before exploding into ‘Radio Tokyo’. Originally released as a single last year by the Too Pure Singles Club, ‘Radio Tokyo’ has been an essential part of the band’s live set for some time, and the extended version here shows what an amazing track it is which seems to just get stronger and more relentless.
‘Beginners’ continues along the same vein with that relentless drum/ bass-led beat that initially burrows itself into you brain and then build and build in the way that all good psych music does as it ramps up the energy and expectation as at the end of this six and a half minute odyssey fragments into the hum of ‘v’, which succeeds in bringing us down into ‘Off Screen’, a much slower number that, perhaps more than any other track on the album, shows us how far that Hookworms have come since the last release. It is a nicely measured track full of considered fuzz, well-placed feedback and lolloping bass. This segues into ‘vi’ which effectively takes us into silence, ready for the final track ‘Retreat’ which feels like a bit of an add-on in terms of the album as a whole and, for me, is the least strong track that lacks the intensity of the rest of the album.
That aside I feel that this is a very strong release that deserves to trouble the end of year retrospectives, an album that is already proving to be full of intense live favourites, and an album that shows how far Hookworms have come since their debut eighteen months ago. I can’t wait to see where the band go next – no pressure though!