After the release of their impressively noisy and cathartic second album Hum, things went south for Hookworms. Their studio and rehearsal space, Suburban Home, was completely ruined in a flood and MJ and the rest of his initialed gang had to rebuild. In the interim, members of the group split off to work on their own music, which was often electronic in nature. When Hookworms reconvened in the new Suburban Home to start work on another album, 2018's Microshift, they decided to go about things differently and incorporate more electronics into the previously guitar-heavy sound.
Instead of working out songs in rehearsal and on-stage, the band built the songs from loops and sequences, then added vintage synths, live drums, guitars, and guest appearances by Richard Formby on modular synth, Virginia Wing's Alice Merida Richards on backing vocals, and sax player Christopher Duffin to get a more expansive and diverse sound. MJ's vocal style is more varied, too, adding some crooning to go along with his intense wail. It's a less abrasive overall approach, though ultimately no less powerful.
The opening track, "Negative Space," shows right away that while the band have clearly moved on from their previous style, they still have all the emotional strength and musical prowess they previously did. The thudding, dancefloor-friendly beats, the cascading synths, the jagged guitar lines, and MJ's pleading vocals make Hookworms sound like a desperate, violent take on the dance punk of early LCD Soundsystem, minus the gloss and plus real feelings. The rest of the album follows a similar script, with the band alternating between driving, Stereolab-on-speed tracks like "Static Resistance" and pummeling synth punk like "Boxing Day" while dialling back the noise and angst a couple times to explore more relaxed and almost bubbly synth pop sounds ("Each Time We Pass.")
The band's sonic growth is impressive -- so many times a group will attempt a total sonic overhaul only to find they've lost the spark that made them click in the first place, but Hookworms' flame is still burning brightly. Their new way of constructing songs and the more open nature of the sound have done nothing to blunt their emotional impact, and Microshift ends up being just as powerful and cathartic as previous works while being richer and more musically satisfying.
Negative Space 6:57
Static Resistance 3:49
The Soft Season 4:01
Each Time We Pass 5:16
Boxing Day 2:19