Heartworms appeared fully formed earlier this year with their brilliant debut EP, A Comforting Notion. Blending gothic menace with post-punk aggression, the four-track record grappled with white-knuckle fury, revenge and the loss of innocence at the hands of the tooth fairy.
Each line was deliberately vicious, while a stylised monochrome Instagram page and videos created by acclaimed actor/director Gilbert Trejo helped Heartworms’ world feel fully realised.
“If you’re not alright, neither am I,” Heartworms’ Jojo Orme said midway through her biggest-ever headline show at London’s Village Underground on Tuesday night, leaning into the disenfranchisement and despair that drives A Comforting Notion.
However, the cracks of light found across the record are torn open over the course of this hour-long gig, regularly creating a feeling of euphoria.
It starts with a figure appearing onstage to wave a Heartworms flag, immediately silencing the packed 800-capacity venue, before Jojo and her three-piece band appear and start playing a disarming instrumental that cycles through sci-fi doom and untethered joy.
This celebratory intro morphs straight into the recent house-infused single ‘May I Comply’. A purge of pent-up frustrations over glitching synths, it’s a wonky party starter that’s perfect for this vast, underground space.
“Oh my god, this is such a beautiful sight,” says Jojo, addressing the crowd for the first time. “Let’s go,” she adds, wanting to make the most of every moment.
While Heartworms’ A Comforting Notion EP provides the foundations for tonight’s gig, it’s not the whole story. This show is a chance for Jojo to really spread her wings and give the audience a glimpse of just how dynamic Heartworms’ world can be.
Fearlessly a step beyond what’s come before, ‘Warplane’ is an unreleased, upbeat number that’s comfortably pop yet defiantly odd. “That went well, but we’ll see what the videos look like,” grins Jojo, aware bootleg clips of her live performances already rack up thousands of streams on YouTube.
“We’ve got a few new songs to play,” she declares without apology. “It’s nice to have more than 30 minutes.” Relishing the chance to sprawl out, six new tracks are aired in fearless succession.
There’s a touch of bombastic stadium rock to ‘Immediate Exhilaration’ and ‘Extraordinary Wings’, but there’s also subtlety as well. The former starts with Jojo toying with both theremin and electric guitar, while the latter is confidently spacious, carving out a place for lush escapism and swaying choreography before a driving urgency takes over.
Others pull from experimental art-punk, festival-ready indie and snarling rock n’ roll, with these vibrant new colours only making Heartworms’ self-described gothic post-punk more exhilarating.
As for the EP tracks, the title track is dreamy, defiant and noisy, while ‘24 Hours’ wields stabbing guitar and explosive breakdowns around rapid poetry.
Ending out the show after an encore and a costume change, ‘Consistent Dedication’ sees Jojo screaming the furious lyrics into the faces of those on the barrier and exclaiming, “Oh shit” when she makes it back to the stage while the closing ‘Retributions Of An Awful Life’ feels more emotional than usual.
Rather than the colossal destruction of the recorded version, though, there’s cathartic positivity in the room tonight. “So much love,” grins Jojo before leaving the stage.
She started Heartworms because she felt restricted in other projects. Onstage, she cuts a commanding presence, throwing her all behind songs of freedom, liberation, pain and determined fight.
It’s easy to draw a line between Heartworms’ snarling music and post-punk groups like Yard Act, Idles and Fontaines D.C that have been blossoming in recent years, but there’s also a smirking playfulness and a desire to bend the rules as well.
Taking the familiar and twisting it, Heartworms is wonderfully unpredictable, but tonight’s gig really does feel like the start of something very special indeed.