Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Heartworms Deliver the Hauntingly Beautiful ‘Jacked’

Sometimes, in music, an artist emerges who performs on multiple levels, with such depth and originality that it feels almost underwhelming to simply call them a musician; as if this was a reductionist term in comparison with the scale and ambition of their work. Heartworms is one such artist. 

From the very beginning, there has been no other way to make sense of Heartworms’ output without looking at the bigger picture: without considering the stage presentation, the carefully crafted videos, and the whole conceptual system underlying it all. This has very much been the case with the debut EP ‘A Comforting Notion’, which came out in the Spring of ’23 and felt very much like it was wrapping up a clearly defined trajectory marked by the singles that had come before it. Yet the EP also felt like a door left ajar: like the trajectory may have reached a midpoint, rather than its natural end. 

Now Heartworms is back with a new single ‘Jacked’ which more than confirms that impression. It is without doubt the beginning of a new chapter: there is greater complexity, a greater sense of urgency, and perhaps also a greater darkness at the bottom of it all. But it is a new chapter in the same book; another tile in a very large mosaic being crafted song after song, which is revealing itself to be bigger and more intricate than one might have initially suspected.

On first listen, ‘Jacked’ feels first and foremost foreboding. There has always been an intensity to Heartworms’ music, but here it feels like the dial has been turned up to the maximum, from the very first beats of the track. The feeling only grows as the beat thrums on, the sound becomes dirtier and more cutting, and a very distinct, immediately recognisable guitar riff surfaces here and there like a ripple of goosebumps. The track feels breathless, not because of the vocals – which are full-bodied and confident, lapsing into the throaty with full deliberation in places; this is a track that has been played a lot on stage before being committed to the studio, and it shows – but because it has no lulls, no dips, no moments of relief; rather than cresting then falling like a wave, it mounts and mounts relentlessly, and when it ends at last, something lingers that leaves that sense of urgency intact. As a song structure, it should not work, but it does: because of the confidence with which it is delivered, and because of the attention that has been put to the fine details. Heartworms has always, after all, been a very deliberate rule-breaker.

It is perhaps because of the haunting nature of the track that an initial instinct might be to connect it with its goth ancestors: Heartworms has brought to mind Bauhaus in the past, but here it would almost be tempted to think of London After Midnight instead. But there is something harder and rougher in ‘Jacked’ that moves it past the simple definition of goth-rock. Listen to the song together with the equally intense black-and-white video directed by Gilbert Trejo – in its complete form, one might be tempted to say – and the first connection that comes to mind is to David Lynch, both to the structured noise he presides over as a musical artist and to the eerie Americana of his visuals. Lynch, perhaps not coincidentally, is also an artist who cannot be pigeonholed within the confines of a single art form.

‘Jacked’ is more nightmare than a dream, and it works, on one of its many levels, as a striking representation through music of an anxiety that is all too familiar. It is haunting and beautiful, and becomes more compelling – not less – over multiple listens. If a new chapter has started within Heartworms’ book, then it looks like this one will go darker and dig deeper than before. It would be far too much of a loss to not go along for the ride.


Chiara Strazzulla


Image: ‘Jacked’ Official Single Cover

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