Sound and community: two things Leeds band Hookworms know plenty about. Last year almost 30 releases were recorded at Suburban Home in Kirkstall, the studio run by the band’s synth player and vocalist Matthew Johnson (MJ). From quirky pop-punk to melancholic grunge, a bit of everything passed through the doors.
Over the past few years the space has become a mecca for the DIY scene – a place that’s affordable, inclusive and inspiring at a time when few studios are. Which is why, back in late 2015 when the building was devastated by flooding, an online fund was set up to help pay for its restoration.
So, it’s no coincidence those are two big themes on this, Hookworms’ third album, recorded in the aftermath of that rebuild. Their band’s redevelopment is also stark. In 2014 ‘The Hum’, their second album, solidified their identity, tightening the misty psychedelic sounds of their debut ‘Pearl Mystic’. And despite the album’s title, ‘Microshift’ represents not a minor step up but a gigantic stride.
On an immediate level the songs sound much bigger, cleaner and more confident. Every component is crisper, from the sharpened hi-hat to MJ’s scrubbed-up vocals.
Lead single ‘Negative Space’, a late contender as one of 2017’s best tracks and the opener on the album, is the purest indicator of that: seven minutes of LCD Soundsystem meets ‘Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)’ glory. And that high standard’s no fluke. Next up, ‘Static Resistance’ is stadium-filling rock from a band still committed to their DIY ethics. And they keep on coming: the propulsive ‘Ullswater’, teary ‘The Soft Season’ and the epic ‘Opener’.
It’s not just the production of the tracks that feels brighter. As in the past, MJ’s lyrics explore some difficult territory – depression, death and grief. But this time, it feels there’s some light creeping into the dark matter – ultimately messages of hope, strength and unity.
In an ever-changing landscape for British ‘guitar music’ – hello Shame, farewell Wild Beasts – this is a sound, a set of songs, that deserves to expand the size of Hookworms’ hard-won community. It’s been well earned.