That psychedelia, as a tag for music, has stuck around for so very long without ever becoming a cheap signifier for something old-hat, hackneyed, done, is perhaps largely due to the differing definitions it has worn down the years. For some it’s flower-brained Californian hippy-pop, for others it’s fractured, demented New York hip-hop. For some it’s desert-fried, mono-chord guitar chugathons, for others it’s endlessly-fired circuits of twisting electronics.
For me psychedelia has always been either music made in the throws of an altered state, or music made in an attempt to recreate, or indeed induce, an altered state. From ‘Hey Mr. Tamourine Man’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ through Roky Erickson to My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, the Flaming Lips and Sleep, psychedelia is music which aims at transportation, not documentation.
Hookworms, a 5-piece band from Leeds, may or may not consider the noise they make to be psychedelia. They may or may not be irritated by the shorthand others employ in grasping for the tag when trying to describe the heady rush of their exploratory guitar music. So be it. I use the term happily to describe them because their songs seem so clearly to be setting their sights on both outer and inner space and then firing massive fucking rockets in their attempts to get there.
‘Pearl Mystic’, their debut album, came out earlier this year. It sounds like the work of a band who have been furiously figuring this stuff out for a decade. Corrosive riff-driven fugue states follow exquisite meditations which ratchet up into yet more intense, acidic exercise. Above, below and around all this is MJ’s vocal sound, fractured and bubbling through frazzled guitar amps, a device apparently designed to mask his embarrassment at taking singing duties and one which ends up turning him into an electrifying, gabbling surge of liquid sound.
It’s quite something. Potent and wild yet delivered with incredible control and assurance. Hookworms remind me of no-one so much as Loop and Spacemen 3, which is high praise. At a time when we’re expected to get behind the idea of Jake Bugg and warbling old David Bowie as the best that Britain has to offer, I say we need a Hookworms infestation and we need it now.
Tom Listened: Back at the bum end of the 80s, Spacemen 3 were my band. I went through a brief but intense period of infatuation that lasted about a year and stemmed from the release of Playing With Fire and then strengthened when I subsequently acquired The Perfect Prescription. Strangely, given my dislike of the whole drug taking culture that was prevalent whilst I was at university, I found a real connection with the psychedelic nature of the music and the quasi-religious content of the lyrics. It was as if the connection to drugs through the music was enough for me (and far safer as far I was concerned)…to paraphrase a Spacemen 3 album title, ‘Not Taking Drugs to Listen to Music to Take Drugs to Because Someone Else Has Taken The Drugs For Me’.
But going back to the records 25 years on is a strange and somehow hollow experience. In my mid 40s I no longer need to feel connected to some sort of counter culture that existed in the ever more distant past and, in isolation, I’m not sure the music Spacemen 3 produced is as ground breaking or interesting as I once thought. Playing With Fire still has its moments, sure, but much of it just seems cliched and adolescent now. Perfect Prescription seems even more tame, many songs just bimbling along carried by an acoustic guitar riff with some dreamy sound effects and wispy vocals laid over the top. It’s not bad per se, just not as relevant to me anymore.
Which gets me, in a round about way, to Hookworms. I enjoyed Pearl Mystic in much the same way as I have recently enjoyed Spacemen 3. Pretty undemanding, very accessible but ultimately it didn’t really speak to me in the way my favourite records do, I didn’t feel a connection to it. That said, the songs were generally lengthy and quite complex in structure – they may well take a bit of uncovering, but on an initial listen I’d file this next to my Spaceman 3 and Loop albums as a record that the 20 year old me would have thought was amazing.
Nick listened: Tried Spacemen 3 when I was at university but didn’t get along with them, even though I already knew and loved Spiritualized. Never knowingly listened to Loop. But that’s by the by; I’ve actually been talking to MJ from Hookworms on Twitter for ages, and didn’t really know he was in a band for several months – he was just a nice guy whose path I crossed and we got talking about music. So I’d been wanting to hear Hookworms for a while, but hadn’t seen a physical copy in Exeter, and didn’t want to try too hard in case I didn’t like it. Which meant I was delighted when Rob pulled it out and stuck it on the turntable, and even more delighted when I enjoyed it. I was in Bristol at the weekend, so I bought myself a copy, and have listened to it a couple of times since. Thinking back to what Rob said under the Darkside post, I find it amusing that he’s so enamoured of this but so so-so about the Darkside, because for me they both have a similar purpose, they both feel psychedelic, where psychedelic is about creating or exploring altered states. I guess they just go about it in different ways.