HTRK - Work (Work, Work) LP
Label: Ghostly International
It's a bleak world for HTRK, as tragedy and death has surrounded this outfit which has only been around for a couple of years. In 2010, the band's bassist Sean Stewart passed away unexpectedly and the producer of their haunted album Marry Me Tonight, Rowland S. Howard, died of cancer a year earlier. All of these elements make the connection to The Birthday Party almost inevitable, especially given their historical mirroring in relocation from Melbourne to Berlin and the manifestation of the id through a very raw sound. But where The Birthday Party was an expression of violence, HTRK are in constant search of desire, occasionally finding it only to have it frustratingly fizzle out before anything ecstatic can be achieved. As a result, HTRK's sensual bleariness is in an emotional feedback loop that never can spiral beyond the longing for sex, love, a relationship, etc. without anything ever attained. HTRK's existential portraits of being trapped by one's own desires are in direct opposition to the hedonism found in most electronica. Here on Work (Work, Work), the band parallels some of the horror-affected reverberation of the flash-in-the-pan Witch House crowd, but instead of drawing on unremembered memories of the forgotten '80s, HTRK has profound pain to draw upon ... and they want their audience to feel that too.
HTRK had been shifting their sound even before Stewart's death – with a greater reliance on electronics and subharmonic tones girding the spindly guitar work from Nigel Yang and the self-composed breathiness of Jonnine Standish. The band was moving away from the rock trio and towards a miasma of voice, guitar, bass and electronics with boundaries between these sounds far more permeable. The closest references to HTRK's sound would be Ike Yard and Dome, although HTRK are much more interested in building tension with their teasing melodies through droning electronics. The first track on the album features a weird collage that Stewart had made of late nite TV sex ads in Berlin amidst slow-motion sighs caught in a half-melodic drone and crawling drum machine pulse. "Eat Yr Heart" ramps a quarter-speed Giorgio Moroder sequence above heroin-paced rhythm with Jonnine crooning a sultry melody counterpointed by breathy exhalations. Sexually charged yes, but more of a downward spiral into dejection rather than release. "Poison" is more in keeping with the bass and guitar structures found on Marry Me Tonight with Sean Stewart's bass clearly present next to the twilight flickering drone-riffs from Yang. "Body Double" overhauls Suicide's classic sound of metallic synth/drum interplay with undulating melodies that stretch into a magnificent coda of cascading melancholy for what amounts to a masterful album. Highly recommended.