Music that spins itself around in circles is likely to end up right where it started. This notion is both the driving principle and the curse behind the motorik beat, the precise refinement in rhythm production made possible by German drummers like Jaki Liebezeit (Can) and Klaus Dinger (Neu). A clean, exacting beat in 4/4 time, it mirrors rock ‘n’ roll’s emphasis on the third beat in the count. But stripped of any combustibles, it was made to power a transcendental rhythm, a dream machine. There’s not too far the drummer can stray from this beat without losing its meaning; it’s a system set up so that the rest of the band can carry itself along gleaming rails. It’s beautiful and it works, but apart from the occasional fill, nothing about it has changed, or can change. It’s only as good a setting as what’s built on top of it.
That beat is also a signifier, a groove in which to get lost. The resurgence of psychedelic music in underground circles has brought many drummers back to its reliable presence, and has tested their mettle in terms of how accurately they can play it. On its second album The Hum, the Leeds band Hookworms is beholden to that beat and the pulse it leaves behind. More than any other current group, however, it’s intent on exploring the energy and chaos that such a solid anchor can provide. Bass guitar and droning organ sounds connect the beat to the tendrils of noise and ripcurls of guitar feedback and synth sounds that skim across its surfaces, before flying upward and outward, adjoining headier sounds with the sonic terror of heavy shoegaze.
There are essentially six songs here, connected by instrumentals named in lowercase Roman numerals (a carryover from 2013’s Pearl Mystic). But in the songs’ relative brevity, Hookworms can’t waste a moment, providing shrewd transitions between the droning single “On Leaving” and the restless “Radio Tokyo.” The focus on concision pays off; The Hum is meant to be consumed as an album, with no breaks, and the band lets you know that upfront. It clearly intends to bang heads with “The Impasse,” which drags solemn instrumentation into the burning furnace of rock ‘n’ roll, in the process paying tribute to the Stooges and At The Drive-In. The beat underscoring The Hum might run in circles, but it’s as much an effort to disorient as it is to keep Hookworms tethered to Earth. One false move, and these kids would blast through the roof of any venue foolhardy enough to think they could be contained.