From Animal Collective to Youth Lagoon, modern psychedelia often seems to derive its palette from the hallucinogen-blurred, childish whimsy of Syd Barrett. Textures are piled atop one another in an attempt to obscure whatever actual songwriting is going on, imbuing these artists’ music with an intentional haziness that, at its worst, devolves into directionless detours. This isn’t the case with Leeds quintet Hookworms, given their preoccupation with both anonymity (the band’s members all go by their initials) and forceful urgency. Methodically pulling from shoegaze, krautrock, American hardcore, and old-timey rock standards like “Louie Louie,” Hookworms follow up 2013’s primal Pearl Mystic with the just-as-vigorous The Hum, an exploration of motorik momentum, droning guitar distortion, and loud-quiet dynamics.
When frontman and keyboardist MJ screeches into action on the opening track, “The Impasse,” he demands your attention whether you understand what’s being said or not. Though his actual words get swallowed in his shamanistic fervor, the guitars explode like bombs, their burnt wreckage scraping against the shimmering keyboards. Anchored by the steady rhythm section and underpinning organ chords, the chaos of MJ’s unhinged vocal acrobatics and the whooshing guitar effects never verges into aimlessness, lending The Hum a steamrolling power laced with clever subtleties, from the harmonic overtones of single “On Leaving” to the Who-style background vocals of “Beginners,” that keep things from becoming monochromatic.
More accessible and less outright alien than its predecessor, The Hum marries the sexy danger of drone giants Spiritualized and Suicide with a classic-rock sensibility. Closer “Retreat” revolves around a Zeppelin-worthy power riff that explodes into sizzling hot solo lines that writhe like snapped power lines, while slow-burner “Off Screen” is the most melodically forthcoming track on the entire album, revealing a softer side to MJ’s vocal delivery that recalls the frazzled intimacy of Yo La Tengo make-out jams like “Damage.” On The Hum, this delicate balancing act between abrasive aggression and unfettered tunefulness positions Hookworms as an uncompromising experimental act with festival-sized ambitions, capable of synthesizing disparate and often contradictory sounds into a cohesive and compelling whole.