For a while now Leeds five-piece Hookworms have been terrorising headlining bands across northern England and beyond, not through histrionics or gimmick, but through sheer sonic velocity and emotive intent. Often bracketed among the latest wave of psychedelic rock currently appearing in pockets around the UK (as support slots with Wooden Shjips, Sun Araw and Peaking Lights attest), this tag is somewhat of a misnomer for a band whose use of repetition and reverb is not to open the third dimension or for some sort of flower-power escapism. Instead the reel feels cathartic, each fresh revolution of the loop a confrontation between the band and themes of depression, loss and anger - subjects close to the heart of the group s vocalist MJ ( no enigma; we just don t use our full names, we ve no interest in being celebrities. ) Pearl Mystic is an absolutely thunderous statement of intent for Hookworms after a portentous couple of years of live shows and limited releases. Their live shows continued to increase in intensity, with impressive festival appearances at Beacons, Liverpool PsychFest and Supersonic cementing their reputation treading the boards. Live and on record, like Spaceman 3, they pointedly subvert the tripped out sound environments of psychedelia with a darkly malevolent punk menace; unlike J.Spaceman et al, there s no chemical assistance, these concepts and feelings come with clarity, and hit all the harder for it. The LP s themes focus on a deeply personal narrative surrounding a lost relationship and a battle with depression that at its worst brought about, as MJ, puts it a half-hearted suicide attempt . Thus songs like Away/Towards (a finer opening to an album you couldn t hope to hear) possess a gargantuan build-and-release infectious energy that juxtaposes with a subtext of a bi-polar approach to coping with loss. Preservation , too, is in keeping with the group s live shows, though deals with existentialism, whilst several Raymond Carver influences are scattered in and among the bold textures of sound. In Our Time is perhaps the closest thing to escapism on the LP, about a hill MJ would cycle up near Otley in Yorkshire after the end of his relationship, because it possessed his favourite view in the world. Since We Had Changed meanwhile is almost mantra-like in its constancy, new percussive elements joining those already on the record, whilst What We Talk About returns full circle to the first track s themes of depression, and emerges from mixed field recordings including a backwards taping of a Hare Krishna lecture played down the studio corridor. The record was recorded and produced in MJ s own Suburban Studios where he s worked on records for Mazes, Eagulls and Spectrals among others and he admits he enjoyed the greater freedom he could allow himself on his own project. Years of acclaimed production work have given him a great understanding for blending together the abilities of both man and machine. My vocal style, for instance, has been informed by the Roland Space Echo he points out. The delayed vocals originated as a comfort blanket for the low confidence I have in my voice, but I have since learnt to sing with the machine - I understand its limitations and breaking points. Certainly the production is lush, erring on the lo-fi side but contrasting that with a sense that every element has been pored over and deeply considered. Indeed, the most impressive thing about Hookworms is that, through this torrent of emotion, through their wild motorik and their thick slabs of noise that threaten to spill over, there s always the sense that they re in control of it all, so committed are they to this catharsis that they refuse to throw any of it to chance.
Leeds-based five-piece Hookworms have been tagged as part of a new psychedelic movement, alongside the likes of TOY. That they’ve toured with Wooden Shjips and Peaking Lights adds credence to the categorisation.
Even Julian Cope has been moved to blog about them: "Do not miss this shoegazing Skynyrd, brothers'n'sisters," he wrote on the Head Heritage website. And the arch-drude knows all about the far out.
Add to these appealing introductions the fact that Hookworm’s members go only by their initials – “We’ve no interest in being celebrities,” says vocalist MJ – and it seems the outfit might be ready to resurrect their hometown as a home of spooks and freak-outs.
Pearl Mystic initially evokes the likes of Loop, Dr. Phibes and the House of Wax Equations, and even Spacemen 3 – albeit if the latter were rather less substances-laced. But there’s a lyrical richness here, too.
It’s this aspect that ensures that Hookworms are not a band simply to tune into and drone out to. Proffered are musings on battling depression, explorations of existentialism, and the depths of personal loss are plumbed – all just beneath swirling arrangements.
Away / Towards builds stunningly, propelling its way motorik-ly towards nine minutes, laying out the Hookworms stall perfectly. There’s anger at play, with MJ releasing frustrations as the track works itself into a cosmic lather.
Form and Function is another blinder, descending into almost white noise as it approaches its climax. It subsequently afterglows into i, which in turn bleeds into the evolving, almost soothing In Our Time.
The mantra-like patterns of organ whirl beneath Since We Had Changed comprise a cleansing yet cathartic menace, atop which is deployed more noise. Preservation shifts from psychedelia into a punkier, screaming fury – just in case you’d become too cosy amongst the bong-passing vibes.
What We Talk About delivers Velvets-y tones, while ii is akin to the soundscaping of early Pink Floyd. These parallels, and more, convey the message that Pearl Mystic is an album that’s somewhat out of time.
Yet it’s also very much of the now, too – as previous acclaim for its makers goes to show. Hookworms could become something genuinely astonishing in a few albums’ time, and Pearl Mystic is a fine foundation indeed.
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