There are those amongst us who welcome the first great album of the year with the same heightened enthusiasm that is usually reserved for the sight of the first flowering buds of Spring. The harshness of Winter is ending, it's time to turn off your 'best of 2017' playlist and embrace the new! Sometimes that enthusiasm can be misplaced, but there are other occasions when the fervour may be justified. So it's at this point that I confidently announce that, come the end of the year, Microshift by Hookworms will be in most Top Ten albums of 2018, and that a Mercury Music Prize nomination is guaranteed.
It's been almost four years since The Hum, the last album by Leeds based Hookworms. It was a terrifying display of psychedelic/noise rock tension. Matthew Johnson screamed indecipherably over an intense backdrop of fuzzy guitars and organs, with Jonathan Nash's ferocious pounding drums adding to the ear-damaging mix. But despite its distressing droning and scuzziness, there was something strangely beautiful underneath.
A lot has happened to Hookworms in the ensuing period between The Hum and their new album. Disaster has followed disaster. Johnson's studio was almost destroyed in a flood, their bank account was defrauded, a close friend died and personal relationships ended. Synth player Matthew Benn recently suggested that it feels like there is a curse on the band. He may just have a point.
It may be a response to the numerous turmoils that the band have undergone, but Microshift is
a vivid and colourful creature. In 2016, the band chose to play at a charity concert as an LCD Soundsystem covers act, no one imagined that this was an indication of what their new sound would be like. Album opener 'Negative Space' springs into life with the same electronic sparkle that James Murphy applied to Sound of Silver. As with the Murphy's band, the danceable grooves mix with some dark lyrics. Johnson has spoken publicly about his depression and lyrics like 'I still see you every time I'm down,' feel like they come from that desolate place.
Static Resistance may still have the swirling organs and frantic drumming of their earlier work but it's a more melodic affair. Johnson's vocals, reminiscent of Arcade Fire's Win Butler, elevate the song into a passionate address: 'There's nothing wrong with being fragile in life' he declares in one of the album's most cathartic moments.
If their previous work attracted comparisons to Spaceman 3, then The Soft Season bears a resemblance to Spiritualized, circa 'Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space', a wounded song of lost love. Johnson's nakedly emotional lyrics cut deeply: 'It's hard to find a way to see us letting go', he admits during one of the songs most poignant moments. The sound disintegrates into ambient noise before being resurrected in the trancelike swoon of the epic Opener.
A joyous bass riff dominates the elegant Shortcomings that closes the album. The song may boast an infectious chorus, but its buoyancy is mixed with an anxious lyric that rhymes 'I'm feeling fallow' with 'Just wanna plateau.' As with much of Microshift, there is bravery in Johnson's ability to give voice to his struggles. The band provide an ideal soundtrack, together they have been through an unimaginably grim period but they've decided to face the future by making the most exhilarating music of their career. An early contender for album of the year? Most definitely!
Hookworms on Bandcamp
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.