Sometimes you enjoy a band, but you know they could be so much more. And you will them into becoming that thing, and so often, that just doesn’t happen. They plough the same furrow with decreasingly fruitful results, until, by album three, you feel something die inside you and you know your relationship with them is over.
I’m always keeping an eye on the local music scene in Leeds. It’s not a bad scene and it always has some bands worth listening to, but often they peter out before they get going. I first noticed there was a bit new psyche thing going a few years ago, and some of it actually seemed really good. At the forefront of that were Hookworms. They’ve made two really solid albums, the first building on the first and expanding its sound. But they were solidly PSYCH albums, sounding something like this:
I’d seen them live and I’m partial to a bit of Krautrock, so it was right in my wheelhouse, but they are REALLY good live, and a lot more punky that you might think, but they weren’t exactly inventing the wheel (to complete the wheel related references). I remember thinking, rather fancifully like a twat, that they were ‘Austerity Psych’ – psych rock channelling the anger of our era in a Northern city.
And then an absence of a couple of years. And then, a month or two ago, I hear THIS on 6Music:
And my mind is blown. THAT is Hookworms? Sweet Jesus, yes. It’s Hookworms having babies with New Order, LCD Soundsystem and every other slice of dance rock heaven you could ever imagine. Everything has gone widescreen. The lead singer, MJ, one of rock’s more unlikely looking lead singers, has no longer hidden his voice behind acres of reverb, and wow, he actually has an amazing voice. The ANGER and the punk attitude is still there (this is, after all, about depression and dealing with the death of a friend), but what a canvas to paint it on.
And then came the album, and the fear that this one truly amazing song would be sat amongst a load of psych songs of old, standing out like a sore thing. Not a bit of it. STATIC RESISTANCE is probably the closest thing to Hookworms of old, but even that has crispness and urgency to it that really stands out. It’s a GREAT Track 2:
It doesn’t let up from there. ULLSWATER is another banger, to rival NEGATIVE SPACE, as is OPENER, which feels almost joyful. And then there’s the other surprise – the soft, almost balladeering underbelly of a band that with hitherto all hard Krautrock beats. THE SOFT SEASON is sweet and moving, and EACH TIME WE PASS is, well, actually quite dreamy!
I think this a major piece of work. It works totally as an album and a vision, and it’s rewarded me every time I’ve played it.
Finally, can we talk about the sequencing? Brother Joey, I know it’s a bugbear of yours and mine when a good album is badly sequenced. Just how beautifully sequenced is this? ULLSWATER as a Track 3 basically says – yes, the whole album is as good as this. And then THE SOFT SEASON is that sudden blast of tenderness that opens out the whole album’s palette. And at the back end, SHORTCOMINGS has got to be the best closer to an album I’ve heard in a long time. It’s up there with my favourite songs on the whole thing – James Murphy would be proud of that one.
It’s only March but I can’t see this not being one of my albums of the year.
So yeah, sometimes those bands you invest in do reward you by turning into something much bigger than you’d ever imagined…
Long time since I’ve been as taken with an album as the new Hookworms album. As a local band, I’ve kept an eye on them for a long time (they’re FEROCIOUS live), and have enjoyed their heavy Krautrock workouts, but I wouldn’t say that either of their first albums have stayed with me that much.
All that has changed with the new album, Microshift. It’s a complete reinvention of everything they’ve done – suddenly full of wide open spaces, electronics and dance rhythms and MJ’s voice – which you suddenly realise is actually brilliant. I have been playing it to DEATH for the last week.
Bearing in mind this blog’s collective love for LCD, Hot Chip et al, I’d be absolutely astonished if there wasn’t a fair bit of love for this. I urge you to listen to the whole album in one go. It’s still an indie record, sure, but it has its eye on so much more than that.
I also love the way they’re using their sound to really dig at real stuff. This is about depression and the death of a friend and other disaster – and finding a way out of the other side. It’s compelling and really life-affirming. Again, James Murphy would be proud.
This is an absolute contender for album of the year for me, and yup, it’s only Feb.
FUCK. ME. Just wow.
Imagine some Grammy judge watching this and thinking “Yeah, this guy’s good, but he’s no Bruno Mars!”
Had a proper WHAT IS THIS moment when I heard this on the radio today. Isn’t it BRILLIANT? It’s everything I love all rolled into one. The artist is apparently deliberately a total mystery.
All there is, rather ingeneously, is a Spotify playlist of their musical inspirations…
I am more than intrigued.
Ah, blue-eyed soul. A double-edged term that come across as much as insult as praise. It implies a lack of depth, a lack of the heritage of the music, not just racially but in terms of authenticity. Maybe this isn’t quite blue-eyed soul, but it’s certainly made by an artist who’s steeped deeply both in the history of the music and current trends. It’s also not quite accurate to say he’s a white guy singing a historically black genre. To be specific, he’s a Kiwi of Pacific Islander heritage who now lives in London and signed to Ninja Tune. How fantastically 21st Century.
So where did this come from? That was what I thought when I first heard ‘Goodbyes’. It was one of those times I immediately Googled the artist, found he’d made a whole album, and then just sat opened-mouthed when I sat down and listened to it. The opening number, ‘Eye to Eye’ starts like a soul ballad, and then when it kicks in, you know you’re going somewhere really interesting. That edgy, nervous arrangement, almost jazz-sounding at at times, is such a great counterpoint to his sweet voice.
This is such a tough genre to excel in. I mean, I think I’d call this a soul record, but it’s a post-dance era soul record, I suppose in the same way that Sampha is. There’s also a touch of those downbeat artists like James Blake in there too. But where some of this genre can be a little hit-and-miss – for example, I LOVE the highlights of the Sampha album, but there’s some filler on there, I really love the whole of this. It’s so fully-formed, it’s so rich, it’s so delicious to listen to. It’s beautifully produced too – those strings remind me of Craig Armstrong’s work on Massive Attack’s finest albums. In fact, Massive Attack are a real cornerstone, influence wise. Time for a trip hop revival, anyone? 😉
There are two stages to your relationship to an album, I find. The first is: do I keep playing it when I first get into it? This has been a huge yes – I’ve had to start rationing myself because I’ve listened so many times. The second stage is: Will I come back to this, year after year – has it become a permanent part of my musical landscape. Well, of course, I won’t know that yet. But if you’re asking me to guess right now, I’m pretty certain it will be. I like it that much.
Highlights: opener Eye to Eye, the straight-up soul of Nerve, funky, melancholic single Goodbyes, Massive Attack-esque Hiding Place. But honestly, I love the whole thing!
So first things first. Let’s celebrate we’ve been running this blog merrily for more than FIVE YEARS! Well done us. And what a constant source of great music and discussion it’s been.
And how apt that we turn to a band after whom the blog was (kind of) named. And a band that has glued us all together musically for many years. We’re talking, of course, about James Murphy and his merry band of LCD wizards.
Second things second. This is a really good album. He’s at the top his game. It’s LCD Soundsystem FFS, what else was it going to be? What I’d like to get into is this: is it a GREAT album? And can something be a GREAT album if it wears its inflences so strongly on its sleeve that it’s impossible to ignore them.
Let’s start with the simple positives. The songwriting is great, and all the lyrical content, with his obsession about getting older, loneliness, disaffection, it’s as as good as anything he’s done. AND, despite the LOOOOOONG running time, I think they pull it off. I was a bit daunted when I saw list of 6, 7, 8, 9 minute songs – but on the whole, they’re little works of art that build their own internal momentum.
So what about that influences thing? Murphy’s mentioned in a number of interviews being inspired by Bowie to make another album, and to do exactly what he wanted to do, regardless of what the audience wants. He’s sure done that. But my goodness, those influences are SO plain the mix. Here’s a list of ones that jumped out on me on pretty much a first listen:
Emotional Haircut – Jesus H Christ, this is pure Joy Division. Could it sound any more like it was produced by Martin Hannett? That drum mix is quintessential Joy Division.
How Do You Sleep? – Oh man, name your early 80s influences. Siouxise? Cure? New Order? Bauhaus? Hell, this could be a bloody band from Leeds in 1982.
Change Your Mind – That guitar part is STRAIGHT from Bowie’s Scary Monsters. You think I’m exaggerating?
I could go on. There’s heaps of New Order and Joy Division influences, but Bowie is the veil than hangs over it all.
And then there are even times when LCD feel like they’re doing a cover of themselves. Do you know what I mean?
Call The Police
Other Voices (again, man, that Robert Fripp-esque guitar that could be from any number of Bowie albums!)
– both of these could have appeared on any of the LCD albums since Day 1. And they feel both wonderfully familiar, but also it’s as I’ve actually heard them before.
So I guess what I’m asking is: does this matter? We talk a lot on this blog about influences and being derivative and being original. Will that, in the end, mean that this is an album I play for quite a bit, then shelve because, when it comes down to it, I might as well listen to Unknown Pleasures or Heroes? Or has Murphy pulled this off with such brio and force and passion, that he’s moulded all the sounds he’s pilfered from his heroes into something new?
Right now, I don’t know. I’m so enjoying listening to it. But I do have a nagging voice in the back of my head. And occassionally, I’ve laughed out loud at how obvious he’s been about stealing a sound.
Over to you, Brothers. And here’s to another 5 years!
SONG OF THE SUMMER ALERT
Lordy lord. What is this? I loved the first two Arcade Fire albums so hard, and then seemed to go right up their fundaments, becoming more pompous and boring and alt-stadium rock with every release.
So count me astonished that this seems to have come out of nowhere. And what is this they’re channelling? Why, it’s surely a touch of ABBA’s Dancing Queen? Dancing Queen with a huge existenial lyric, a bit of nose flute and a giant choir?
YES FUCKING PLEASE.
This will piss off the rock purists so badly.
This makes me so happy.
I’ve listened to this 25 times in the past week.
NOTE TO ALL BANDS: Find your inner Agnetha and Annifrid, and all will be well.