, March 13th, 2013 10:58
Anyone who has seen Hookworms live knows that they are an enervating, entrancing, life-enhancing experience. The Leeds quintet create hypnotic, cathartic, discombobulating dance music through a disorienting combination of echo-swamped vocals, garage bred organ, fuzz-blitzed wah-wah guitars and constantly driving rhythms. It just sounds like so many rock & roll clichés on paper, but these unassuming young men who rarely remove their coats and insist on only being known by their initials somehow make it completely new. You forget about your record collection and mental index of comparisons, and find yourself just stood in a small sweaty room with this vicious, compulsive noise swirling around you, and singer MJ stood at his keyboard screaming his lungs out about how "you're losing your face” and god knows what else.
Broadly and correctly described as a psychedelic band, Hookworms are fans of Black Flag and US hardcore who deflect individual attention (hence the initials-only stance), show no desire to give up their day jobs, and enthusiastically muck in with the experimental DIY scene loosely centred on Nottingham's exemplary Gringo Records (the indie label on which Pearl Mystic is released). So far they've released a clutch of limited-run EPs, live cassettes and split seven-inches, but these offered little clue as to how well the occult fire of the gigs (because magic is too wimpy, too precious a term) would transfer onto their debut album.
Well, fret no more. Pearl Mystic is that live bacchanal, focussed and given clarity but not compromised or cleaned up in any way- it was self-produced in MJ's own Suburban Studios, after all- and with a couple of newly-crafted curveballs thrown in for good measure. All you could wish for, in other words- and at 44 minutes, it even hits that "one side of a C90” classic perfect album length. It fades in with the epic 'Away Towards,' building slowly until the song finally crashes into life dead on the three minute mark, and every Loop / Stereolab move you thought was old and worn out suddenly becomes fresh and vital again. It's metronomic, but not droning; psychedelic, definitely, but shoegazing? Fuck, no - the vocals may be reduced to near-unintelligibility by the Roland space echo, but MJ looks you right in the eye throughout, his rallying cry of "Come on!” Iggy-defiant as each vertiginously-descending rollercoaster chorus kicks in, the song oscillating wildly with the acid evangelism and garage fervour of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators linked to Suicide's street punk, sci-fi nihilism.
The call-and-response Velvet Underground swagger of 'Form and Function' follows; screaming desperation blistered and burnt in the body's own chemical maelstrom as the mind struggles to come to terms with rejection and loss. There's a loose lyrical theme of depression and break-up running throughout the album, and this song in particular feels like the endless internal dialogue of that situation that all the drink and drugs just can't block out; they just wrap it in distorted guitars and deep organ stabs, and if you're lucky hit you with just this level of warm fuzz overload so the pain seems almost pleasant and you stagger blithely into the opiated haze of 'i', a blanket of unconditional white noise that finally gives way in turn to the loping bass and needle-guitar prickling of 'In Our Time.'
This is the album's first real wild card, a strung-out ballad that recalls Primal Scream at their most fractured and narcotic. It takes a while to love, but the decision to vary the pace on Pearl Mystic, in contrast to just replicating Hookworms' brain-frazzling live shows, was a wise one, and 'In Our Time' could prove to be one of the album's most rewarding tracks. Likewise the tambourine-driven pulse of 'Since We Changed,' which more closely resembles Spacemen 3 or Wooden Shjips, its shamanic healing trance repeatedly circling a core of contained pain, like the Doors' 'The End' as deconstructed by Sunburned Hand of the Man. Speaking of whom, what's the betting Hookworms were among the youngsters whose heads were turned and lives changed by those incredible Sunburned Hand live shows in the early noughties, their chaotic freeform ritualism offering a million possibilities that are still being acted out by the small and scattered provincial freak units who allowed themselves to be possessed by the capricious, maverick muse the Sunburned collective fleetingly summoned?
The Raymond Carver referencing 'Preservation' blasts the light from the room, an armoured train careering through the Pennine sidings as Pudsey, Bradford, Halifax and Hebden Bridge are all immolated in apocalyptic rapture. Carver is nodded to again on 'What We Talk About,' pulling away from the ruins on blackened wings and gospel dreams, a repeated lament of "we say goodnight” hanging over slide guitar and organ intertwining without the slightest hint of retro reverence, just the sound of the view from the hill at night, the golden lights of Factory Town and the distant motorway roar.
Pearl Mystic is the best British psychedelic album since the 1990s; maybe more than that. There are promises in its depths that will only be made good in the weeks, months, years to come. Hookworms don't strike a pose, go through the motions or indulge in narcotised narcissism, stoned mirror-gazing in leather trousers. They are useful, they are fierce and alive, they are nuanced and open, and every noise, every rhythm they create serves a purpose. That purpose is not to recreate other records, or other eras; it is to dislocate the present moment, and to wrench freedom from our self-made psychic prisons. In other words, Hookworms are the real thing.