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Hookworms – 'The Hum' review

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The first sound you hear on The Hum normally accompanies the final moments of a timebomb countdown in a suspense thriller. For 25 horrifying seconds, remorseless and unflinching, the ticking-clock-urgent-bleeping stabs swirl dizzyingly around the speakers while imaginary visuals jump-cut ever tighter around a diminishing digital read-out. The clock hits zero, there’s an infinitesimal pause and then blam – the roof comes off. What follows is ‘The Impasse’, two blistering minutes of mushroom-cloud-laying speaker-shredding garage rock squall, and within 150 seconds of setting needle to record the debris is everywhere, Hookworms have breathlessly set out their pagan spacerock stall and the band are gliding, unwavering, to a cruising altitude. 

There can’t be many albums released in recent years that spring from the blocks with this ferocity. What makes that instant flash all the more striking is how diametrically different it is to its predecessor’s entrance: Pearl Mystic began with nothing more than walls of ambient drone glowing and growing over the same time it takes The Impasse to turn up, chuck the TV out the window and check out again. Unmistakably, this is music with purpose.

But opener of The Hum, Hookworms’ second album proper, serves to distance the ensuing record not just from Pearl Mystic, but from pretty much everything else: like a violent blast-off that lifts the Space Shuttle out of Earth’s gravity, The Impasse forcibly detaches Hookworms from their surroundings, and the album that follows is an experience akin to floating in space – one is aware of hurtling, unrestrained, at unimaginable speed, but the accompanying airlessness makes that experience feel serenely still.

And it’s in this paradox which The Hum revels, and which renders it such a giant leap on from Pearl Mystic. Where its predecessor rejoiced in broad sonic splatter, The Hum’s precision chaos feels almost militaristically deployed: even at its noisiest, Beginners’ teutonic throb recalls the straitening intensity of Steve Reich, and Off Screen, the album’s most strung-out moment, still broods with a muscular, emotionally wrenching potency that reveals what a well-oiled machine Hookworms have become.

That said, The Hum retains some continuity – the linguistic abstraction rolls over from their debut, and the three instrumental interludes here are numbered iv, v and vi to continue the sequence begun on their debut (indeed, back to back, the two records make for a towering double LP). But The Hum also reads like a conclusion. Where Pearl Mystic faded to open-ended fuzz black, the finale here is the most anthemic, air-punching closing-credits style song Hookworms have ever recorded: when Retreat’s triumphalist climax is snipped clean with a disconcertingly neat hi-hat hit, it’s an unexpected statement of finality from a band that has hitherto made endlessness its watchword.

But perhaps that’s the point here. After all, for all Hookworms’ horizon-chasing, this is also, overwhelmingly, music to drive off cliffs to at a million miles an hour, preferably in a Mercury Cougar with the Feds closing in, in a last-gasp apocalyptic act of live-free-die-young escapism. It makes for phenomenally exciting, white-hot music, a multi-sensory trip directly engineered to leave you physically exhausted, wide-eyed and panting. With that decisiveness, The Hum could be the last we hear of Hookworms; equally, it could just be the end of chapter one.