Hookworms are a five-piece from Leeds who’ve cultivated a strong aesthetic built on independent values and ethics and a desire to focus strictly and purely on sound and the power of the music. They are entirely gimmick free and shun any sort of facile expression. For Hookworms, transcending the mundane through sound is all that matters.
The lengths that the band go to in an effort to avoid pandering to an obsessive culture built on personality includes only using their initials and not divulging their names. While this may be something quite small, it is an indication of the sense of mystery that makes their debut album Pearl Mystic such a compelling record.
It would be terribly easily to play a game of spot the musical influence with this album, but that would be doing a great disservice to Hookworms and their ability to make music that transcends all notion of reverential pastiche. There are distinct echoes of the drone rock of bands like Spacemen 3 or Loop, but the skill here is in how Hookworms take those influences and mesh them into brain melting, mind altering washes of sound.
Produced solely by the band on a customary low budget, Pearl Mystic is an album that at once sounds loose and ragged and yet filled with bracing sonic power. If anything it sounds un-produced, an effect that gives the album an oddly captivating feel. Opening track Away/Towards is immediate evidence of Hookworms’ outré approach. It takes some gumption to open your debut with an eight and a half minute motorik trip. The first two minutes are given away to imperceptible echoes and drones before erupting in a sonic explosion akin to Primal Scream’s more riotous moments circa XTRMNTR. It’s a perfect mix between subtle and incendiary. The rhythmic power of the music is something to behold.
Tracks like Form and Function are less perceptible melodic songs than great big hulking pieces of behemoth psych rock. The eastern tinged guitar and swirling organ sounds lift the music beyond anything recognisably rock in its trad sense to something far more interesting. Singer MB’s invigorating screams are characterised by a pleasing carefree abandon.
The album’s nine tracks are punctuated by three instrumental soundscapes carefully placed throughout the record. These drone like interludes play a key role in linking the album into one evolving piece. It drifts seamlessly into the gorgeous, loping bass slumber of In Our Time perfectly. The heavily reverbed vocals used here are a key feature of Hookworms’ sound. Even better is the following Since We Had Changed. The music here is even more somnolent and spaced out. Barely there at times, it transports you into a whole otherworld accompanied by mantra-like eerie organ. It’s a piece relentless in its droning execution.
There’s a feeling throughout the album’s not overly long 45 minutes that everything feels longer and more sprawling than it actually is. You easily become utterly immersed in the sound with its cumulative effect of blissful inertia; this is certainly the case on the psychedelic reveries that provide the album’s highlights.
Elsewhere, the music rattles by, powered along by an excellent rhythm section. Preservation is the most traditionally energised piece here, ending in rollicking swathes of guitar noise. The vocal cries of MJ are strangely reminiscent of Rage Against The Machine’s Zack De La Rocha. He certainly comes across as an angry man but you’re never entirely sure what he is railing against. In interviews before the album, he has stated that some of the themes deal with depression and declining relationships. This may be an exercise in catharsis but the largely imperceptible lyrics don’t really carry this across.
But the album’s final main track is an exception to this largely obscured rule. On the lovely What We Talk About, MJ sounds bereft and exposed. His lyrics are at their most easily accessible as he delivers an off kilter but compelling vocal including the repeated line, “It’s time to say goodnight”. It provides a languid counterpoint to the mind warping experiments that precede it.
Pearl Mystic really is a staggering debut. Hookworms are a band quite unlike anything the UK has produced for years. It’s to their huge credit that they have made such an assured and immersive album on their own terms.