A record that shines in the face of darkness.
Label: Domino Records
Released: 2nd February 2018
On Boxing Day 2015, the North was hit with serious flooding. Homes were uninhabitable and local businesses left ruined. Hookworms’ Matthew Johnson’s Kirkstall based studio, Suburban Home, was one such place damaged by the floods. It was this tragedy that left many people, MJ and Hookworms included, unsure about their futures.
But it was also this tragedy that saw the people of Yorkshire banding together to minimise the damage. Hookworms themselves even held a charity gig to help iconic Hebden Bridge venue The Trades Club get back on its feet. But not as Hookworms; as LCD Soundsystem.
The floods, a last minute cancellation of an important US tour, a number of personal tragedies and this dalliance with LCD Soundsystem cover band status (having also performed this at Brudenell Social Club’s New Year’s Eve party just a few weeks before) seems to have shaped their third full-length album, 'Microshift'. It’s a dark record tonally, but the clearing of the psych fog that permeated their previous two albums almost feels like a clearing of the mind; a band ready to tackle these events head-on.
The introduction of a more electronic element to 'Microshift''s forefront, perhaps inspired by this time as James Murphy et al. and most definitely by their work with producer Richard Formby, unleashes a whole new side to Hookworms.
Album opener ‘Negative Space’ mixes the darkness and the light in a way reminiscent of Factory Floor; chirpy drum machine beats and an incredibly danceable melody sit side by side with MJ’s impassioned vocals as he scrambles for meaning in the wake of grief. “Who can I trust/now you’re not breathing?” he shouts.
But as the song slowly unfolds into its second half like an LCD Soundsystem epic, these cries are replaced by an understanding lit at full beam. The curtains have been well and truly flung back, and it’s a clarity of understanding that might’ve been lost among the fuzz of guitars.
For once, we can truly hear MJ. No longer is he hidden so much behind his beloved Space Echo. On 'The Soft Season', for instance, MJ’s vocals take on an almost Ben Gibbard circa The Postal Service quality as the synths shimmer like snow in the sun. Now we can hear every ounce of heartbreak and hope in equal measure.
This shift to a more electronic style also brings more experimentation to 'Microshift'. Working with Richard Formby, the eight and a half minute epic 'Opener' offers an exciting mid-way treat to the album. As the synths, drums and guitars twirl around each other in a beautifully intricate dance, MJ unravels the perils of toxic masculinity and the need to fully open up to one another. It’s that darkness mixed with light once again that makes Hookworms feel more empowering than ever.
It’s no surprise Hookworms chose to become a temporary LCD Soundsystem cover band. Like Murphy, MJ has started to mix the melancholic with the euphoric, tackling his fears, worries and confusion by practically dancing through them. Like the camaraderie that came from the Boxing Day floods, 'Microshift' is all about finding that light and shining it as bright as possible.
'Microshift', then, almost feels like an underwhelming title for this third album. This is anything but a microshift. Here, the band are more willing than ever to open up their sound, to experiment and, ultimately, to create a record that shines in the face of darkness. It’s an evolution that brings an abundance of riches for an already exciting band. Chris Taylor