For a while now Leeds five-piece Hookworms have been terrorising headlining bands across northern England and beyond, not through histrionics or gimmick, but through sheer sonic velocity and emotive intent. Often bracketed among the latest wave of psychedelic rock currently appearing in pockets around the UK (as support slots with Wooden Shjips, Sun Araw and Peaking Lights attest), this tag is somewhat of a misnomer for a band whose use of repetition and reverb is not to open the third dimension or for some sort of flower-power escapism. Instead the reel feels cathartic, each fresh revolution of the loop a confrontation between the band and themes of depression, loss and anger - subjects close to the heart of the group's vocalist MJ ("no enigma; we just don't use our full names, we've no interest in being celebrities.")
Pearl Mystic is an absolutely thunderous statement of intent for Hookworms (MJ - vox/keys/analogues; JW - guitarist, SS - guitarist; MB - bass; JN - drums) after a portentous couple of years of live shows and limited releases. A debut self-titled EP initially came out on cassette for Sun Araw's Sun Ark label before being given a vinyl release on Faux Discx/Gringo Records. Both sold out. A split 7" with drone-soundscapists Kogumaza followed on Gringo in summer 2012, whilst their live shows continued to increase in intensity, with impressive festival appearances at Beacons, Liverpool PsychFest and Supersonic cementing their reputation treading the boards. Live and on record, like Spaceman 3, they pointedly subvert the tripped out sound environments of psychedelia with a darkly malevolent punk menace; unlike J.Spaceman et al, there's no chemical assistance, these concepts and feelings come with clarity, and hit all the harder for it.
The LP's themes focus on a deeply personal narrative surrounding a lost relationship and a battle with depression that at its worst brought about, as MJ, puts it "a half-hearted suicide attempt". Thus songs like ‘Away/Towards' (a finer opening to an album you couldn't hope to hear) possess a gargantuan build-and-release infectious energy that juxtaposes with a subtext of a bi-polar approach to coping with loss. ‘Preservation', too, is in keeping with the group's live shows, though deals with existentialism, whilst several Raymond Carver influences are scattered in and among the bold textures of sound.
‘In Our Time' is perhaps the closest thing to escapism on the LP, about a hill MJ would cycle up near Otley in Yorkshire after the end of his relationship, because it possessed his favourite view in the world. ‘Since We Had Changed' meanwhile is almost mantra-like in its constancy, new percussive elements joining those already on the record, whilst ‘What We Talk About' returns full circle to the first track's themes of depression, and emerges from mixed field recordings including a backwards taping of a Hare Krishna lecture played down the studio corridor.
The record was recorded and produced in MJ's own Suburban Studios - where he's worked on records for Mazes, Eagulls and Spectrals among others - and he admits he enjoyed the greater freedom he could allow himself on his own project. Years of acclaimed production work have given him a great understanding for blending together the abilities of both man and machine. "My vocal style, for instance, has been informed by the Roland Space Echo" he points out. "The delayed vocals originated as a comfort blanket for the low confidence I have in my voice, but I have since learnt to sing with the machine - I understand its limitations and breaking points." Certainly the production is lush, erring on the lo-fi side but contrasting that with a sense that every element has been pored over and deeply considered.
Indeed, the most impressive thing about Hookworms is that, through this torrent of emotion, through their wild motorik and their thick slabs of noise that threaten to spill over, there's always the sense that they're in control of it all, so committed are they to this catharsis that they refuse to throw any of it to chance.