Album Review: Hookworms – Microshift

By Connor Stroff, Contributor
[Domino; 2018]
Rating: 8.5/10 

Key Tracks: “Negative Space”, “Each Time We Pass”, “Shortcomings”

The making of Microshift, the latest album from psych-rock quintet Hookworms, is not only an incredible feat given the seamlessly endless setbacks and trauma faced by the band following the three-year gap since their last LP. It’s a story of the big-hearts of fans and friends alike who helped come together to get the band back on their feet. Dealing with greedy, abusive producers, a financially draining cancellation of their US tour amidst visa scandals, psychical and mental health issues, and even an entire flood obliterating their Leeds studio, Microshift is an album which, given the circumstances, defies all logic. These tragedies mark an undeniable metamorphic change of sound, contrasting their iconic maelstrom of psychedelic noise for a much sharper and clear-cut electronic soundscape, all while retaining their wired-up, immediate urgency from their previous work.

Frontman Matthew Johnson finally steps out from the curtains, revealing an uncovered, beautiful voice with a knack for well-crafted melody and a newfound confidence expressing himself to the world. The band’s new exploration into pop territories has allowed them to finally step into the light, shedding off layers of noise to make way for an ecstasy that only comes through defeating tremendous tragedy.

Microshift is much greater than a simple rock group adopting the use of synthesizers to stay relevant. A cliché by this point, their change marks an embrace towards emotional honestly, something with which rock ‘n roll has traditionally discouraged. Songs like “Opener”, which lament the unwillingness of men to be open with another, or “Shortcomings”, which reflect MJ’s extreme performance anxiety, offer refreshing candidness from such a group. The opening track, “Negative Space”, which reflects upon the passing of a beloved friend, showcases the band’s new ability of constructing compelling structural changes; building up peaks upon peaks, which somehow complement and outdo the other until a midway break, which simultaneously provides release and a seamless transition to the next track.

“Ullswater” reflects upon the frightening first-hand account of MJ’s father’s developing Alzheimer’s. This experience spawns one of the most intense moments on the album, as regret from their failed relationship boils to a climactic storm with both vocals and instrumentation on the edge of a complete breakdown. “Boxing Day” refers to the fateful day which the river Aire burst from its banks, completely engulfing the band’s studio and rehearsal space, resulting in the loss of the band’s equipment and new material from an unreleased EP. Blistering guitars and screeching horns fill the void while an upbeat synth lead appears to replicate the unstoppable inertia of the river itself. Like a flip of a switch, “Reunion” is a soft ambient counterpoint to the aggression, undoubtedly representing the relief to be back in the studio, which the band is quick to point out is due to the incredible response of fans through an incredible GoFundMe campaign.

Perhaps ironically titled, Hookworms have gone through everything but a Microshift. It’s amazing to see an already great band transform into an even better one for all the right reasons. Largely this album is about loss, the tremendous burdens we face while living, but also about coming out of these moments more mature and with a greater sense of identity and awareness of the short-nature of time and intimacy. The band reaches this through a newfound boldness, putting their sincerities up for the world to see and gaining not only transparency, but focus.

Listen here:

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