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Patrick Preston

Hookworms - Microshift

Album Review: Hookworms – Microshift

It was debatable how far forward Hookworms could have propelled their career had they restricted themselves to the sprawling – if somewhat limiting – vibe of their previous records. Sure enough, this make-or-break moment is bounded over with ease, as the band reengineer their airy, faraway mind-trip music into a more claustrophobic, organic kraut-math-pop, with any haze that previously obscured their sound having naturally cleared.

Initially most striking are the vocals’ immediacy and – crucially – their discernibility, which lends them an earnest, personal warmth; track ‘The Soft Season’ even brings to mind Animal Collective in its joyous vocal melodies. There is still room for experimentation, however, with one foray into a monotone plainchant (‘Boxing Day’) and haunting layered echoes of tropical shoe-gaze melodies (‘Each Time We Pass’).

Painting the backdrop to this are the band’s trademark measured organ chords, while ‘Reunion’ shows they don’t quite want to let go of the ambient soundscapes that added to the depth and character of their previous work. Off-beat bleeps and hums now dot each song, while glorious sunlit keys illuminate the record’s darkest corners.

Throbbing, depth-charge bass notes pulse like a heartbeat – the motorik rhythms of ‘Static Resistance’ ringing clear and ‘Ullswater’ – with the latter boasting an imminently groove-able 9/8 jam. Ullswater in particular boasts beats that are relentless in their constructive, layering power. Mixing up the the instrumentals further, it’s the bass guitar that takes centre stage in album closer ‘Shortcomings’, framing a twitchy, driven lead line over choppy chords.

Rather than the rough slipstreams of records past, however, Microshift’s smoother and more relaxed production brings to mind a soft glide over a blank landscape, rushing to a glorious dawning climax on the horizon – summoning the underlying rhythmic skeleton – a shift to a new era. It can be daunting getting into Hookworms upon listening to previous works but Microshift sees a nice change, albeit still wholly experimental.

Album Review: tUnE-yArDs - Consistently playing with their radical, yet oddball image, tUnE-yArDs have released their cumbersomely-titled fourth album 'I can feel you creep into my private life' - MCR Live Blog

Album Review: tUnE-yArDs – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life

Consistently playing with their radical, yet oddball image, tUnE-yArDs have released their cumbersomely-titled fourth album ‘I can feel you creep into my private life’. The album is more inward-looking but conveys its message more urgently and eagerly than the band’s previous output. The skittery, thudding beats that typify their sound are all present, remaining as imminently danceable, though with more obvious variation.

‘Coast to Coast’ adds shades of a sweeping rock with a rumbling, march-like rhythm whilst ‘Who Are You’ leaves frontwoman Merrill Garbus duetting with an epic, far-reaching saxophone solo. Aural experimentation is rife, as per the fondness for a smattering of esoteric lo-fi field recordings and samples. Likewise, the record lurches from energetic 80s throwback ‘Look at Your Hands’ to the stalking, ghostly dub of ‘Home’, and the squelchy, wobbly rhythms of ‘Private Life’, with not-at-all misplaced confidence.

Nate Brenner’s intricate basslines add pure driving power and harmonious melody as required, switching with skilful ease. The track ‘Who Are You’ also showcases Garbus’ powerful vocal talents. It wields an uncanny code-switching ability between a frenetic squawk and warm, honeyed pop, both densely layered into lush-sounding melodies. Garbus ably handles off-beat, staggered phrasing alongside echoey plainsong chants, with gloriously simple repeating proclamations hammering her message home. This prominently features in the record’s harsh, discordant woke-pop of ‘Colonizer’. It swells into whirring noise after an assertion of Garbus’ precarious position of responsibility, referencing her ‘white woman’s voice’ and the ‘smell of blood in her home’.

Elsewhere, stream-of-consciousness lyrics detail confessions, urges and innermost thoughts. Proclamations of self-love and more personal allusions are clear in tracks such as ‘Hammer’’s – proudly asserting one’s identity as their own person. Yet nowhere is this more evident than in album opener ‘Heart Attack’, which eventually breaks into an intimate repeated choral refrain of “I’m only human”.

Having previously portrayed herself as an otherworldly, curious figure, private life is far more revealing of Garbus’ human side. Yet, it also illuminates the intimately personal sides of her songs’ subjects, as well as those around her. The striking cover art is ambiguous in this regard, which alongside the cryptic title conveys both a hesitant push and a warm embrace at the same time. This is only further reinforced by the repeated self-titled mantra of the song ‘Honesty’, and is brought round to a head with album closer ‘Free’. This track is a glorious reassertion of freedom and autonomy, melting into a distorted soundscape and brought to a halt with Garbus’ voice – ending entirely on her own terms.