"Pink Worm," the parting shot of the new EP of the same name from Hammer No More the Fingers, seems at first another prototypical burst of indie rock verve from the Durham trio. Across two albums, they've ripped through condensed and catchy three-minute rock songs that sort of made sense but mostly just bred excitement by reanimating Archers of Loaf angles and Pavement absurdity with an energy that ignored reverence for those references. Indeed, on "Pink Worm," guitarist Joe Hall leads again with one of his razor-sharp lines, coiled and ready behind Duncan Webster's half-shouted, half-sung, half-sensical words about a hangover, a pet cemetery and a serendipitous encounter with a space-traveling annelid. Drummer Jeff Stickley keeps it steadfast and smart, fortifying the builds and softening the collapses. This is Hammer, just as they've always been.
But after 100 seconds, the song turns into a smear, the trio's harmonies slowing from a pour into a drip and the instruments relaxing to a terrapin patter. For most of the next three minutes, or the remainder of this five-song, 16-minute disc, that's where they stay, drifting along a gentle tide of guitar slides, knotty bass and drumstick tickles, offering a relatively protracted exhalation within a catalog sometimes confined by concision. And that's the trick of Pink Worm, a small but stylistically significant offering that again finds Hammer trying to push its reach beyond the expected. The country-rock flirtation and post-rock surge of "Tie Your Head On" suggests Built to Spill with several singers, while Webster's bass lifts the lead on the playful "Kilowave," not only taking a short solo but also stepping into prominence during the bisected verses. They even nod toward barbershop singing and ambient expanses on "Window Falls," an intricate gem that flips structural standards.
Recorded with producer BJ Burton after two albums with Jawbox's J Robbins and self-released after two LPs with Churchkey Records, Pink Worm feels like an attempt to step out of old molds. And though it succeeds in part, it very much feels like Hammer trying to find new footing. For all their general gusto, they sometimes feel tired here, like a band struggling to quickly get out of its own shell. For the most part, at least, hearing that process is still fun.