2 Nov 2014

Hookworms / The Hum (album review)

Since the release of their brilliant debut record Pearl Mystic in the Spring of last year, the acclaim and praise that Leeds-based band Hookworms have gained has been almost astronomical. Five friends from Leeds, Hookworms made their debut album with very little following, but such was the prowess of the LP, Pearl Mystic went on to be one of the single most revered albums of 2013 - the Quietus even said it was the greatest British psychedelic record of the 21st century, and they're probably right. Due to it's success, their energetic live shows, and their almost unique sound - which is the perfect balance of innovative and retrospective - Hookworms have built up a pretty huge audience eager to hear new LP The Hum try and follow-up the almighty Pearl Mystic.

The Hum is almost a sequel to it's predecessor, made apparent in quite a few ways; Pearl Mystic's 6 songs were linked by three interlude pieces I, II and III - this time around on The Hum, 6 songs are glued together by three pieces called iv, v and vi. And that's just the beginning of the similarities; The Hum is a more streamlined, confident sequel to an already great album. To quote the band themselves, the new LP is 'them, with the fat trimmed off'.

Although it's a brand new LP, the first track to be released from it came out at around the same time as last year. It was a standalone single that the band loved to play live so much that it became an archetype for the second LP; that song being Radio Tokyo. Radio Tokyo is one of the most perfect singles to come out in recent years, and the perfect starting point for the LP. A four minute explosion of sound, driven by surges of Nuggets-style organ and lead singer MJ's distinctive delay-drenched vocals, Radio Tokyo is made even better by it's album rejig; for The Hum it's been given a more dramatic middle eight and a more scintillating, enthusiastic organ motif that makes the song seem much more energetic. If Radio Tokyo is anything to go by as a mission statement, The Hum is sure to be one of the greatest albums of the past decade or so.

The Hum takes it's name from The Hum; an auditory phenomena that about a tenth of the population can hear - it's a low-frequency drone that that 10% hear, and in some cases has led to insanity and even suicide. Whilst it's hard to see why this album is named after that at times, the hypnotic lead single (well, the first single to be released since the album was announced) On Leaving probably makes this most apparent. Six minutes of a mesmeric, repetitive drone that you can't help but be sucked into, On Leaving sees the quintet at their most intriguing. It's probably also the only Hookworms song that you could learn the words to if you wanted to.

Overall, The Hum is much more positive, and more triumphant than Pearl Mystic. Where their debut album sounds like it's coming from a dark emotional place, whereas The Hum sounds like it's emerged from the darkness stronger than ever before. The hurtling opener, The Impasse, a 140 second blast of ecstatic reverb-drenched noise rock. It's jumpy, genius, and above all it's got a certain energy that is lacked by not only Pearl Mystic, but a lot of psych and alternative bands. Never settling down, it has a raw punk rock energy underneath it's fantastic production make it hair-raisingly exhilarating right through, and one of the greatest songs to come out in years and years.

The energy of The Impasse and Radio Tokyo doesn't let up through Beginners; the album's centrepiece. It begins with a sound that's almost like a radio tuning in before the cyclical drumming of JN and the buzzing guitar parts kick in. Throughout, MJ's vocals are strong and backed up by a howling in between the verses. Beginners is such a great centrepiece for the album that the whole of the interlude section v feels like one huge comedown from it's ecstatic feel.
New Hookworms merchandise features a unique coffee blend

Throughout the almost entire duration of the album, The Hum hardly looks back. It's ecstatic and pushed on and on by some inspired drumming and a lot of energy. But despite this, the next song, Off Screen is a complete outlier from the rest of the album - the only exception. It's slow, sad, and over it's seven minute duration (combined with the 100 second instrumental break afterwards) it makes the listener feel a whole spectrum of broken emotions and forlorn feelings. It's fuzzy, and despite the forlorn atmosphere, it's very much an almost welcome break from the humdrum of the rest of the LP. It's not what you'd describe as ambient, but it's more atmospheric than the rest of the album and features some moving MJ vocal hooks.

The album closer Retreat is another genius track, one that highlights Hookworms' new sound; it kind of sounds like an organ driven version of See No Evil by Television at first, but the track progresses to become the most euphoric song in Hookworms whole discography. It's an apt closer; it's long outro - almost 3 minutes - brings the album to a close perfectly. It's a song you never want to end and throughout the whole duration of the track it sounds like it probably could end any second.

Over it's 38 minute duration, this flawless release showcases Hookworms' new approach, even them being one third instrumental interludes, the 9 songs from The Hum are much more like actual songs than the hypnotic fuzz jams of Pearl Mystic. PM was undoubtedly the album of the year last year, but The Hum has taken everything great from last year and moved it on in a great way; all killer, no filler, The Hum might quite possibly be the greatest album of the decade. It's certainly the album of the year. To say there's not a dull moment would be doing it a disservice; there's not a moment that doesn't raise the hair on the back the neck. It's so rare that an album embodies perfection in the same way that The Hum does; retrospectively, I can't remember the last album to come out as great as The Hum; maybe it's the greatest album since The Black Angels' Phosphene Dreams or The Horrors' Primary Colours. But it's not worthwhile trying to pigeonhole this band, or compare them to anyone else, because Hookworms have made this perfect record on their terms, and they are truly unparalleled.

Released: 10th November on Weird World Records
Tracklisting: The Impasse, On Leaving, iv, Radio Tokyo, Beginners, v, Off Screen, vi, Retreat
Buy it: HERE

(written by calum cashin)