The exceptional new album by HTRK, Psychic 9-5 Club, is available now from Mistletone mail order on CD and deluxe vinyl, and in all good record stores via Mistletone/Inertia.
LONGLISTED FOR THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC PRIZE (AMP) 2014
- “The only way for HTRK (pronounced Hate Rock) is up. On 2011’s acclaimed Work (work work) the Melbourne/Sydney alternative duo of Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang made modern machine music, with eerie synthesisers and deathly whispers. Their new album pulls out of that emotional nosedive, embracing a strikingly poised sense of renewal. Psychic 9-5 Club is a ghostly reflection of immaculate 1980s pop productions such as Sade’s Diamond Life. “This time, I’m gonna love you much better”, Standish sings on the opener Give It Up, with the sparse arrangements finding traces of optimism via dub-inflected basslines and the dawn-like warmth of the vocals. Menace still lingers on the likes of Soul Sleep and Wet Dream, but the intimations of hope are often tantalising. Forget easy listening, this is uneasy listening. The record grapples with love, giving the term an emotional clarity as it represents both self-esteem and a desire for a connection with others. HTRK’s triumph lies in their powers to concentrate a mood into the specific. The songs reveal pocket universes, but barely a note is extraneous” – SYDNEY MORNING HERALD **** four stars
Psychic 9-5 Club marks the beginning of a new chapter for HTRK. It’s an album that looks back on a time of sadness and struggle, and within that struggle they find hope and humour and love. It’s Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang’s first album recorded entirely as a duo—former band member Sean Stewart died halfway through the recording of their last LP, Work (Work Work) (Mistletone, 2011).
Though the record is instantly recognisable as HTRK — Standish’s vocal delivery remains central to the band’s sound, while the productions are typically lean and dubby — they’ve found ample room for exploration within this framework. Gone are the reverb-soaked guitar explorations of 2009’s Marry Me Tonight and the fuzzy growls that ran through Work (Work Work). They’ve been replaced with something tender, velvety and polished. This is HTRK, but the flesh has been stripped from their sound, throwing the focus on naked arrangements and minimalist sound design.
The album was recorded at Blazer Sound Studios in New Mexico with Excepter’s Nathan Corbin, who had previously directed the video clip for Work (Work Work) cut “Bendin.” Inviting a third party into their world was no easy decision, but in Corbin they found a kindred spirit. The LP was then refined and reworked in Australia at the turn of 2013, before the finishing touches were applied in New York during the summer.
Of all the themes that run through Psychic 9-5 Club, love is the most central. The word is laced throughout the album in lyrics and titles—love as a distraction, loving yourself, loving others. Standish’s lyrics explore the complexities of sexuality and the body’s reaction to personal loss, though there’s room for wry humour — a constant through much of the best experimental Australian music of the past few decades.
Standish explores her vocal range fully — her husky spoken-word drawl remains, but we also hear her laugh and sing. Equally, Yang’s exploratory production techniques — particularly his well-documented love of dub — are given room to shine. They dip headlong into some of the things that make humans tick — love, loss and desire — with the kind of integrity that has marked the band out from day one. Psychic 9-5 Club is truly an album for the body and for the soul.
TRACK LISTING: PSYCHIC 9-5 CLUB by HTRK
1 Give it Up
2 Blue Sunshine
3 Feels like Love
4 Soul Sleep
5 Wet Dream
6 Love is Distraction
7 Chinatown Style
8 The Body You Deserve
HTRK photo by Robert Bellamy
HTRK’s music is not a quick-fix for restless, impatient minds; it needs to absorbed, contemplated and revisited. Listen to one of their records and you’ll find yourself slipping deep into their sound world, where the cavernous reverberations of dub techno are mixed with frosted post-punk motifs and the gravelly imperfections of industrial, reimagined in the setting of a dingy basement.
Their music is layered with enough subtle cultural reference points to attract critical dissection, raw enough to appeal to beer-swilling live crowds, and visceral enough to make sense throbbing out of a club soundsystem. Throw together the core influences of HTRK and you’ll find David Lynch’s unsettling surrealism next to Bill Henson’s industrial landscapes, with Mika Vainio’s minimal compositions alongside the malfunctioning synth-pop of Suicide. It’s a potent concoction.
Formed in 2003 as the duo of Nigel Yang and Sean Stewart in Melbourne’s north-western suburbs, the band soon welcomed vocalist Jonnine Standish into the fold, before self-releasing their debut EP, Nostalgia, in 2005 (re-released by Fire Records in 2007). From the off their sound was raw and visceral, with distorted guitar pedals caking Standish’s vocals in sonic grit. The band swapped Melbourne for Berlin in 2006, arriving in the German capital unsigned. There they remained for a year, rehearsing in the next room to Einstrzende Neubauten, hungrily soaking up the city’s revolutionary musical heritage that can be traced from cabaret through to the birth of krautrock, and Tresor and Berghain.
Jonnine and Nigel moved to London in 2007 – Sean adopted the city as a part-time home along with Berlin – and soon the band began to develop a reputation for incendiary live shows. They performed a memorable set at Corsica Studios in 2008, and appeared at the legendary Optimo club night in Glasgow back when it was a weekly Sunday night affair, perhaps the ultimate seal of approval in underground musical esoterica (Optimo’s JD Twitch recalls the gig being “rapturously received”).
The band followed up Nostalgia with 2009’s Marry Me Tonight, an LP co-produced by Rowland S. Howard, founding member of The Birthday Party and a towering figure in the Australian music scene. Marry Me Tonight was in many respects a neo-pop opus, with the band’s homespun sound now developed into something more spacious and immersive; tracks like “Disco,” which sounded like a club anthem anaesthetised and played at 33rpm, and the narcotic, shamanistic rhythms of “HA” cemented the band as a formidable outfit. In 2009 Howard died of liver cancer, but not before he had left a deep and lasting impression on the band, as both a mentor and a friend.
It was around this time Sean met Mika Vainio: Stewart, along with Yang and Standish, greatly admired the revered Finnish producer, and the rugged electronics dabbled with on Marry Me Tonight seeped further into the band’s sound as they continued to experiment with synthesisers and drum machines. Recording sessions at Netil House in London Fields led to the third HTRK album, Work (Work Work), released on Mistletone in 2011, a gloomy masterpiece whose resonance only becomes truly apparent after repeated listens.
The band’s world was turned upside down when Stewart committed suicide halfway through the album’s recording. Standish and Yang finished the album as a duo, locking themselves away from the world and finding the ultimate catharsis in the studio. Work (Work Work) is intense and leaden with texture, a sonic monument to Sean that stands as one of the most underrated LPs of recent years. Thematically it explores the body’s reaction to personal loss, using humour and sex drive as lyrical themes, with Standish’s vocal delivery remaining strangely detached, her emotions severed and numb. It remains the band’s strongest work to date, the pools of murky noise suffocating the guitar and bass, with an overwhelming atmosphere that is at once malevolent yet seductive, drawing you further down the HTRK wormhole.
Both Standish and Yang returned to Australia in 2012, the former to Melbourne and the latter to Sydney. They decamped to the Blazer Sound Studios in New Mexico to begin work on their new record Psychic 9 to 5 Club, with Excepter’s Nathan Corbin called on to produce; the American struck up an immediate kinship with HTRK during their time together. Psychic 9-5 Club is out now on Mistletone/Inertia (Australia/NZ) + Ghostly International (USA).
PRAISE FOR PSYCHIC 9-5 CLUB (Mistletone, 2014):
- “An impressive distillation of, and extension on (HTRK’s) previous albums. The sparse melodies, languorous tempos, precise percussion, dub effects and Jonnine’s distinctive vocals all combine to produce an entrancing collection of new material” – 3RRR ALBUM OF THE WEEK
- “Midway through Feels Like Love, HTRK give listeners something unexpected: the sound of Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang laughing. The Melbourne duo’s music – all drum-machine plod and dead-zone vocals – has long sounded depressed, especially on 2011’s Work (Work, Work), the LP made in mourning for bassist Sean Stewart and producer Roland S. Howard. Whether piping in chuckles is enough to convince listeners Psychic 9-5 Club is joyful is questionable, especially given its snail pace and droll lyricism. But the set’s dubby effects and watery synths lend the LP a warmth of tone, if not of spirit” – THE AGE (4 stars)
- “Standish and Yang have become masters of minimalism, turning the emptiness in their sonic landscape into a defining trait” – STACK (4.5 stars)
- “This is the sound of a band who’ve picked up the pieces and found a new, exciting beast in their hands. HTRK remain the brilliant and confrontational group they’ve always been, they’re just navigating a strange new world” – THE MUSIC (4 stars)
- “HTRK’s new album elevates both the lyrics and outside influences to the surface while embracing a lustrous minimalism” – MESS + NOISE (“On Rotation”)
- “Shuddering synths, throb-step, real talk… HTRK always have something to say about the state of this decaying, fraying planet” – HERALD SUN
PRAISE FOR WORK (WORK, WORK) (Mistletone, 2011):
- “Work (work, work) is a visionary, fully accomplished reflection on the contemporary manifestation of that perennial artistic theme: sex.” – MESS + NOISE #1 CRITICS POLL 2011 (+ #7 MESS + NOISE READERS POLL 2011)
- “The extraordinary globe-trotting Australian duo HTRK – pronounced Haterock – are in so many ways an art piece rather than two musicians. They are an installation. The music is sparse and often difficult electronica but it is also ringed by incredible halos of beauty. The humans within all this seem incidental and occasionally quite separate from the music. What they do is beautiful, if it is beauty you can see in the solemn and the profane” – SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- “Downcast, dark electro, a clinical, beautiful mess of textures and buried words that avoids noise for the sake of it but extends known ideas of rock and electronics into new netherworlds.” – THE AGE MELBOURNE MAGAZINE
- “Work (Work, Work) finds its claustrophobic structure in layered synths, indistinct and evocative lyrics and skeletal drum machine patterns.” – TRIPLE R ALBUM OF THE WEEK
- “HTRK have created a piece of art that is dark and disorienting; dense velvet curtains used to hide any signs of light, while cigarette smoke clouds the air and your head.” – BEAT ALBUM OF THE WEEK
- “The overt sexuality of a Berlin brothel… laced with heartbreaking and distressing emotion” – THE BRAG ALBUM OF THE WEEK
- “A beautiful, disturbing and ultimately heartbreaking record… A compelling and brutally truthful experiment in downbeat atmospherics without peer” – INPRESS
Work (work, work) by HTRK (Mistletone, 2011) is available on CD and deluxe, limited edition coloured vinyl on mail order.