Hookworms – ‘The Hum’

The cosmic crew from Leeds update last year's brilliant debut with a tougher, richer psychedelic sound

After Hookworms released their self-titled debut EP in 2011, MB, the band’s bassist said: “The hookworm is a parasite that lives inside its chosen host, sucking blood and damaging the small intestine, and can occasionally lead to death if not treated or attended to properly. We’d like to think that our music works its way into our ‘hosts’, and grinds them down from the inside, bludgeoning them into submission with repetition and noise.”

It proved to be a prophetic statement as the Leeds five-piece went on to release ‘Pearl Mystic’, last year’s excellent album, on tiny-but-respected Nottingham-based indie, Gringo. Without a marketing campaign behind it (or a Mercury Prize submission), the record became hookworm-like itself – squirming its way inside bodies and minds by word of mouth – and although there was something cocksure about MB declaring that their music would “bludgeon hosts into submission”, no one seemed more surprised by the success of ‘Pearl Mystic’ than Hookworms themselves. They said they genuinely had no idea whether the album was any good and also that their band was, and remains, a hobby.

‘Pearl Mystic’ inadvertently hit the zeitgeist. The group have nothing to do with Tame Impala, or Goat, or Temples, but they got caught up in a fresh appetite for psychedelia, hoisting them further into the limelight than they seemed comfortable with (for all its sonic malevolence, ‘Pearl Mystic’ is ostensibly an album about frontman/producer MJ’s battle with depression) and leading to heightened anticipation for ‘The Hum’, their second LP and first for Domino imprint Weird World.

Now, they have a bigger recording budget, new gear and a forthcoming marketing campaign, but to know Hookworms is to know a band with a strong sense of DIY ethics. There is no showboating or ostentatiousness on ‘The Hum’; it’s a different record to ‘Pearl Mystic’, but also a logical continuation and, in some ways, a companion piece. On ‘Pearl Mystic’, ambient, instrumental tracks that were crucial to giving the album a wide-open, cosmic feel were numbered (‘I’, ‘II’, ‘III’) and that numbering of similar pieces continues here (‘IV’, ‘V’, ‘VI’), locking the two albums together. There are also songs, like ‘On Leaving’ and ‘Beginners’ (both clocking in at over six minutes), that are built on a repeated two-chord groove, as many tracks on ‘Pearl Mystic’ were, but ‘The Hum’ is tougher, richer and more dynamic, throwing Hookworms forward in spectacular, assured fashion. To a sonic palette of Spaceman 3, early Primal Scream and The Velvet Underground, they’ve added ‘Sound Of Silver’-era LCD Soundsystem, allowed their debt to US punk and hardcore to shine through more obviously. They even dare to finish with a superb glam-rock stomp, ‘Retreat’, reminiscent of the poppier end of The Stooges or Modern Lovers.

MJ has said the success of ‘Pearl Mystic’ helped him deal with depression and performance anxiety, but it’s too convenient to say that ‘The Hum’ is more upbeat and riotous because it signals his victory over illness. The opening track is called ‘The Impasse’, suggesting deadlock, and the most sober moment, ‘Off Screen’, talks about “drowning in absent desire”. These songs are exceptions, however. ‘On Leaving’ works around a refrain of “I figured it out” and on ‘Radio Tokyo’ (a re-recorded pre-album single), MJ sings about how “nostalgia digs me out”. You sense his joy, and joy in the band. You want Hookworms to succeed, and they do; ‘The Hum’ is all feel, no bullshit, and it truly gets under your skin.

Phil Hebblethwaite