- HTRK have been through a lot of changes in the past ten years, personally as well as musically. In 2006, back when their songs were full of reverb-drenched guitars, they left their home city of Melbourne for what turned out to be an unhappy stint in Berlin. From there they moved to London, where, in 2010, bassist Sean Stewart committed suicide. The band had been in the process of writing Work (work, work), an ominous, synth-heavy album that Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang finished as a duo. Since then, HTRK's remaining members have resettled in Australia, this time in Sydney. It was in this period of relative calm that they produced Psychic 9-5 Club, their first record done entirely as a duo, and their most mature piece of music yet.
In some ways Psychic 9-5 Club feels like a sequel to Work (work, work). The titles of both records reflect the band's unease about day jobs—"We both really like the idea of that energy that can exist between the hours of nine to five, which for a lot of people are wasted hours, or hours of just going through the motions," Standish recently told Dazed. Vanity and body image still loom large—before we had "Skinny," now we have "The Body You Deserve" and "Wet Dream." Most essentially, HTRK's sound is once again driven by a kind of erotic angst—the same thing that made Portishead so good.
But if the themes are familiar, the delivery is more refined. HTRK have a lighter touch here than they ever have before. The compositions are thoroughly minimalist, each one little more than a few understated loops and Standish's smoky moans. Dubbed out with reverb and delay, the skeletal beats have a hypnotic, mirage-like quality. The lyrics, meanwhile, are more subtle and pithy. There are the oblique phrases HTRK's always done well ("bones go day-glo"), as well as simple, disarmingly personal refrains. In "Chinatown Style," Standish coos something like "you know / I got / mood swings that I got no control of." But you know that isn't quite it—as with My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, some of the lyrics are only half-intelligible, and more powerful for it.
A deep languor defines Psychic 9-5 Club—the overall vibe is part séance, part post-coital cigarette. Even its broodiest moments have a kind of sexy elegance to them. There are glimmers of sweetness, too, like the warm chords of "Soul Sleep," or the instrumental "Feels Like Love," where we actually hear Standish laughing. This odd marriage of dread and tenderness has a way of getting under your skin. As cryptic as it is, Psychic 9-5 Club is very easy to love.
01. Give it Up
02. Blue Sunshine
03. Feels like Love
04. Soul Sleep
05. Wet Dream
06. Love is Distraction
07. Chinatown Style
08. The Body You Deserve