A few years back there was a trend of bands coming into prominence who used a double “v” or a double “i” somewhere in their title (e.g., Alvvays, DIIV, Miike Snow, etc.). So far 2017 is shaping up to be the year of the worm. It’s only February and we’ve already been exposed to new music from bands named Cut Worms, Flat Worms, and most recently Hookworms. Formed in Leeds, England in the early 2010s, Hookworms has been somewhat quiet the last few years. In fact, Microshift is their first full-length studio album since 2014’s The Hum.
Hookworms’ sound is best described as indie electronica for folks whose musical tastes have evolved beyond Passion Pit but still want to dance. Whereas Passion Pit’s best-known songs are energetic and optimistic, the tracks on Hookworms’ Microshift, while similar tempo-wise, tend to skew toward a more subversive and cerebral tone.
The three songs that open Microshift, “Negative Space”, “Static Resistance”, and “Ullswater”, all maintain a similar dancefloor-ready pace and make up just under a third of the album’s total running time. Vocalist MJ’s emphatic, sometimes pleading delivery, while not immediately recognized as being compatible with Microshift’s quirky, analogue bleeps and bloops and atmospheric washes, does eventually attain a somewhat appropriate fit in the listener’s ear by the end of the initial trifecta.
“The Soft Season” utilizes a back-and-forth Stereolab-esque blueprint for the LP’s first ballad, offhandedly tossing in arbitrary-sounding synthetic bubbling gurgles and a subtle saxophone capper. MJ’s vocals take on an only slightly gentler inflection here, ultimately coming across as too crooning to ever feel sincere considering the song’s romantic lyrical themes. “Opener” initiates side B and makes up Microshift’s next eight and a half trying minutes. Comprised largely of a Neu!-like hypnotic rhythm, the song feels like an odd choice considering its placement in the record’s track sequence.
Microshift’s final act doesn’t offer many standouts moments. The comparatively short, experimental “Boxing Day” is interesting if only for the inclusion of a freewheeling, skronky sax and MJ’s unusual monotone vocal take. The record’s final song, “Shortcomings”, starts like Wilco’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, but rather than taking a rock and roll turn, instead falls into a synth-pop groove that manages to tie a pleasant bow on an otherwise mixed bag of an album.