- The Australian duo successfully revamps their post-punk-informed sound while falling slightly short of past glories.
- HTRK's last two albums seemed to emanate from a dreamlike abyss, reflecting experiences and states of mind the listener could only imagine. Both charted dark periods for the band's members, Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang. The group's third member, Sean Stewart, died while they were recoding 2011's Work (Work, Work), leaving Standish and Yang to finish the album as a duo. Three years later they released Psychic 9-5 Club, an album that reduced their broody post-punk sound to something more electronic, often made up of little more than Standish's voice over gentle drums and pads.
Venus In Leo and the two EPs that preceded it capture the band in a very different moment. They're back in Australia, a few years older and in a better place personally. They sound different, too. Venus In Leo departs from Psychic 9-5 Club in most ways, trading meticulously sculpted electronics for live recordings done in just a few takes. Yang says his reintroduction to Melbourne's indie scene influenced the album, and it shows—he strums guitar on every track. Standish favors a traditional verse-and-chorus song structure, rather than the circling incantations of past records. Her lyrics are less cryptic as well, riffing on things like social media ("Mentions"), teenage debauchery ("New Year's Day" and "New Year's Eve") and astrology ("Venus In Leo"). The beats are classic HTRK—shimmering and mirage-like, vaguely recalling an '80s thriller soundtrack—but they, too, feel unfussy, as if only standing in for a live drummer.
While this scrappier, DIY vibe feels like a natural fit for HTRK, Venus In Leo lacks some of the depth and mystery that makes their music so powerful. Each of their past albums has moments or turns of phrase that come back to you again and again—in other words, that are literally haunting. This one stops just short of giving you goosebumps. Perhaps this speaks to the emotional state of the band as they recorded these albums. In a recent interview with Hero magazine, Standish said Psychic 9-5 Club was "about trying to get to a good place… It was meant to be a beacon of light or a pathway. But years later, I actually feel like I really am in a good place." Art made as a lifeline for the artist will often be more powerful than something made in relative comfort. Still, HTRK create something their fans will never tire of: a dark, sensual, poetic languor that's theirs alone. Venus In Leo delivers a welcome fresh take on that sound.
01. Into the Drama
03. Venus In Leo
04. You Know How To Make Me Happy
05. Dream Symbol
06. Hit 'Em Wit Da Hee
07. Dying Of Jealousy
08. New Year's Day
09. New Year's Eve