On their third album (and their own first as a duo), Australia’s HTRK have emerged from the darkness that shrouded their previous work into a property of hope—albeit tinged with the groupings trademarked sinister sleaze, says Daniel Jones.
In 2011, it was impossible to listen to HTRK’s second LP Work (work, work) without getting a sense of just how tough a time the beginning of this decade was for the band. In the mid-2000s, the particular Australian trio had been picking up vapor following the release of their debut album Marry Me Tonight . After so many years of suffering uninteresting post-punk Joy Division variations, I felt like I’d finally found something clean, a good balance of dubby aloofness and art-pop sensibility. It was even produced by The Birthday Party’s Rowland S. Howard, for that extra contact of street cred. But after HTRK bassist Sean Stewart got his own life in 2010, there was the palpable sense of entropy hanging over the band—a feeling of loss that draped the subsequent Work (work, work) like a shroud. Its sluggishness and icy beats and synths struggled to exist beneath suffocating bass and Jonnine Standish’s plaintive words, aurally akin to Sade having a good orgasm while drowning. In the right mood, the album was narcotic, the stuff of equally gorgeous and disquieting dreams. Pitchfork resented it.
Psychic 9-5 Club could be the first album Standish and Nigel Yang have recorded entirely as being a duo, and while the atmosphere is simply as glacial, the feeling of pain is lightened, less raw. Gone also is that feeling of decayed material, a sheen of emotional armor growing over it that speaks of healing, of learning to love the entire world around you once more. Love has been the particular lyrical theme that has remained probably the most constant throughout HTRK’s eleven years of existence. In the past it was expressed by means of coerced and soured fucks, late-night phone sleaze and junkie arm-poetry. Psychic 9-5 Club on the other hand knocks back again the nihilism somewhat and stitches up some of the blown-out holes, producing room for hope in the as soon as lost souls of HTRK’s sonic worlds. The eight tracks listed here are filled with fresh air that provide each component with more room to breathe as well as the music to spread out across the mind leisurely, rather than in a long smear of psychological decompression. The platform behind the productions of Psychic 9-5 Club is still fairly skeletal, yet there are so many layers of gauzy synths that the tracks always manage to really feel vast, which fits the openness to new genres. Psychedelic internal organs chime between ethereal oscillations and dreamlike tropicalia makes me nostalgic for chillwaves gone by. The particular mostly instrumental “Feels Like Love” is downright playful at times, even featuring honest-to-god laughter—not the particular malicious scorn of a dominatrix, yet more the exhalation you might give upon waking in bed with a new sweetheart, slowly awakening in a tangle of blankets.
Indeed, Standish’s vocals are one of the highlights of the recording. Where Work ( work, work ) had them hardly peaking above the rest of the instrumentation, right here they’re allowed to shine. Standish provides, paradoxically, one of the most expressive monotones I have ever heard, and is able to wring 2 vastly different emotions out of the slightest change in inflection. The whole time I was listening to the album the particular edges of my mind had been flicking at my barely-used Pop Reputation switch, especially during “Blue Sunshine” and “Wet Dream”. The latter’s choir-of-one vocal refrain “I’m in love with myself” pretty much makes it the perfect contemporary goth song. There’s also a good deal of Sade up in there, in addition to Dido, Nico, and Chris Isaak—all masters of the slow-burning torch song. While HTRK are quick to have the “industrial” tag, to my ears they’ve always been far closer to Marc Almond than Marc Heal.
Some of the descriptors I used for Work ( function, work ) sound like criticism, but it’s the whole opposite. I love music that makes me feel as though I’ve been slipped into an abyssal k-hole, which focuses heavily on intense times of despair (if not outright celebrating it). But I’ve also learned that extended wallowing leaves me feeling extremely empty. Standish and Yang have managed to find a stability between the two that still mirrors the bittersweet pleasure of exploring emotional wreckage, while strengthening the particular healing that comes after. The scars may still show, but the wounds always close eventually—provided one continues from picking at them. ~
Psychic 9-5 Club has gone out today via Ghostly International.