The British North is home to a DIY scene that on the surface looks much like any other: hardcore bands playing to small crowds in provincial towns. But in recent years, the underground venues of Leeds have spawned a number of groups who, while identifiably punk in mindset, reject such easy signposting. Like close peers Eagulls, Hookworms have the feel of a band marching to their own drum. But while Eagulls‘ self-titled debut mined a gothic post-punk in thrall to Killing Joke and the Bunnymen, Hookworms are in a different genus of heaviness: a breathless, hurricane-force psych redolent of both the fried end of U.S. garage and the acid-blotter repetition of Loop and Spacemen 3.
The Hum constitutes a step up for Hookworms, from Nottingham independent Gringo to Weird World, a subsidiary of Domino. Yet the quintet haven’t noticeably softened the sound laid out on their 2012 debut LP Pearl Mystic. If anything, the opposite, going on opener “The Impasse,” which surges forth on a two-finger keyboard drone that sounds like a caffeinated Martin Rev, with drums beating out a sped-up motorik, and vocalist MJ’s impassioned caterwaul battling for breathing space as everything scrabbles to get louder than everything else.
One reason The Hum feels distinct from the surfeit of psychedelic music finding its way to ears in 2014 is because Hookworms understand the importance of a niche. They’re still making their albums in the DIY recording space Suburban Home in which MJ works as a sound engineer, and if they could theoretically go bigger with a Domino budget, they’re clearly doing what feels right for them. For all their blown-out roughness, “On Leaving” and “Beginners” feel studiously shaped.
Hookworms can do soft, as evinced by a few instrumental interludes and the neat “Off Screen,” a dreamy lull pointing toward the opiate bliss of Sonic Boom’s Spectrum material. Primarily, though, you feel Hookworms’ songwriting is about playing with dynamics of build, rhythm and groove. “Retreat” adopts a glam bounce that feels mischievous, while “Radio Tokyo,” with its delay-soaked guitar and organ shimmy, demands to be pressed to a seven-inch and stuck in a jukebox forthwith. There seems to be no overarching aim to The Hum beyond the obvious joy of five friends together in a small room, making music they get a kick out of.