A Comforting Notion
The Great British Buzz Band: the phenomenon whereby one of our own—Dry Cleaning, Wet Leg, black midi—reaches superlative heights and we never shut up about them. Call it parental pride, an inadequacy complex, or maybe just the last thing the country still gets right. Whatever the case, Heartworms are the latest recipient of Brits’ idolatry, with sold-out headline shows from London to Manchester; not to mention a recent spot at the fabled SXSW across the pond. Their inaugural EP, A Comforting Notion, makes clear why they’re fast becoming the next big thing at home and beyond.
Jojo Orme is Heartworms’ military-uniformed, steely glared enigma. From her conservative upbringing in the West Country through her stint in a YMCA, to a music production college course leading her to finding her crowd in Streatham, South London, Orme’s lived experience manifests in her music as defiant confidence and agitated energy. The Heartworms sound has little in common with the cheeky guitar pop of Wet Leg, for example, or the mawkish croon of The Shins, whose 2017 album gave Orme the idea for her band name. Instead, there are growling, robust bass lines and trancey, swaggering beats; artillery-fire guitars and synthesizers like air raid sirens. No pop. No power chords. No people pleasing.
“Sometimes I’ll read a poem and have absolutely no idea what’s going on, but I’ll love the feeling it evokes in me,” Orme told The Quietus. That alluring disorientation is exactly what it’s like to listen to A Comforting Notion. Produced by Dan Carey, Speedy Wunderground label head and producer behind many a Great British Buzz Band, the EP’s four tracks showcase Orme’s dizzying vocal style—she whispers, spits, snarls, screams, and cackles—as well as the Rolodex of varied influences she mines to produce something that, as the cliché goes, doesn’t sound like anything else.
Sure, you can hear reverberations of Radiohead in the lyrics to “24 Hours” and in the song’s Greenwoodian electro-rock experimentation. Krautrock of the NEU! ’75 side-two variety helps the rousing intro to standout track “Retributions of an Awful Life.” Disintegration-style goth-rock lurks in the monochromatic aesthetics and icy guitars. And maybe Orme looks to The Shins’ James Mercer after all, if only to inspire those strange, fragmented lyrics: “Eat the flies on your face / Plot an angle, stand straight / Better keep my mother’s eyes / Pass her heart into my chest.”
Overall, though, A Comforting Notion sounds fresh and inventive. And Orme’s obscure poetry offers new takes on the con that is growing up (“Bleeding teeth became money / And money became a souvenir”) as well as some pretty gnarly graffiti-on-the-wall-of-an-institution one liners (“Ugly is the man, he’ll chew his eyes”). The only time the EP falters is on its title track: a student union-y bemoaning of capitalism or Marxism or both, centered around a banal analogy (“Remove the chains / My wrists are in strain”). Livelier instrumentation might have saved it, but Orme chooses to slow the tempo and thin out the arrangement, leaving an atonal guitar loop and lethargic drum shuffle.
Notwithstanding this minor gripe, A Comforting Notion is an exceedingly promising introduction to a band destined for ubiquity, and will no doubt ensure that army surplus stores are overrun with Gen Zers.