HTRK – Psychic 9 – 5 Club: A reflection


HTRKs lineage has often been clear with patronage from the likes of Roland S. Howard (who produced 2009s Marry Me Tonight) and Mika Vainio (this years remix of Poison) but their output has been less demarcated in its vision.

The former trio have developed a sound which has frequently careened into dissonant, charring noise whilst often submerged in black pools of industrial-heavy-dub, backed by the solid seethe and sizzle of drum machines. Together these elements coalesce into a deep pulse-like din; a slow kind of violence.

Coupled with devotional desire and obsession as a driving theme, theyve also penetrated deeper fathoms offering heart wrenching undulations which hint at a touching kind of rupture or collapse (especially on Fascinator, and Skinny) But even in the midst of moments like these an appealing range of tone is shown as dark and heavy fixations are undercut with lustful, propositional, and humorous lyricism. These traits remain in one way or another in this latest LP, but instead of a sense of active agitation theres a feeling of crepuscular reflection; a more intimately resonant atmosphere. 

Since the tragic death of former member and friend Sean Stewart during the creation of 2011s Work, Work, Work, this is the first effort Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang have completed as a duo from the outset, overcoming this loss with a third LP which doesnt writhe as before so much as stalk and slink in crystal promiscuity, like a panther in heat. The interest in dub apparently favoured by Stewart and Yang continues but the essence is smoother; a fog still thickly vaporous but with a more velvet-like texture and cream-like viscosity. Its as if their previous semblances of angularity have been blunted; melted by the sultriness conjured. 

Standish has remarked how their latest is a continuation of a trilogy beginning with Marry Me Tonight as the lust album, before you go out,Work Work Work as the comedown album with this the apparent conclusion; reaching what all of the efforts, fantasies and gratifications that these prior exertions have yearned for and descended from; a love album (presumably within the club referred to in the albums title) That might explain the feeling of a shift, from scratch to caress. But if this is an album perceived as encapsulating a love within such a setting its one which is more soporific and enervated than wide-eyed, open-armed and loved-up. Imagining the clientele of the titular club, it seems much more appropriate to speculate the predominant reaction as something profound and opiated; more indolent than dynamic. 

Populated by broad lower-end strokes which drape these tracks in a sunken thunder, the effect is one of transfixion, with a potent but level engine-hum powering underneath whilst the lighter vocal billows of Standish float and ascend upwards; lithely toned but with a wounded urgency. On Give It Up and Chinatown Style they become acutely evocative of R & B, marked as they are by subtly extravagant lilts and a slighted-but-determined attitude of address, though their execution, like the surrounding sound, remains different. The same cadences of R & B could be traced in these vocals and the offbeat percussive tread that backs them, but they seem to bask more, with a tempo almost like a graceful crawl. This redolence could be applied more broadly as generally Standishs vocals are more delicate and insulating and the extent of novel veneer is discernible (compared with previous work) But even in spite of the finesse and the polish, the accompaniment retains a brawny stature and a scale with all the expanse of an abandoned quarry. Theres a vastness of space and a dank fullness of bass throughout; a depth consistent with their past and one which has made them such a beguiling listen and enduring fixture (in certain circles)

Greater gloss hasnt signaled a debilitating loss of bite; merely a development toward something more streamlined and honed.  Like dub, like R & B in places but still not quite easily shelved into either, it has its own special, iridescent blend.

Though less overtly remindful of R & B theres a similar touch of sleek, simmering sensuality elsewhere. Feels like Love is shaded as such, an instrumental fix with glimmering streams of distortion laced, and recorded laughter naturalistically tucked, into gentle pad-led elongations and repetitions. Blue Sunshine also coasts, though with less muscularity than Give It Up and less groove than Feels Like Love, instead cruising through a serene space populated by mists of ambient dub and vocals which are almost like a featherweight form of seduction; light but with an effective sway. Then, as the album progresses through its midway point, an unraveling pervades. With the prominence of 808-percussion and large-scale sweeps and ripples of dub, the remaining efforts retain a highly nuanced and textured sound, yet the flow is less of a supine glide and more of a pained, circuitous lap. Both Wet Dream and Love is Distraction plangently revolve around the same elements as if mirroring the fate of repeating a fall.

At this point the sounds remain robust but they have a more delicate emotional tinge. They still luxuriate in a kind of reverie, but do so with added fragility, accentuated by greater stretches of hush and pause, bringing to the fore a dimly-lit melancholia. Its as if the dream state of the imagined club environment has become more centered; enlightened and grounded by intimate realisations. Refrains like Im in love with myself (Wet Dream), almost flash like diamonds/love is distraction (Love is Distraction) and you know/I got/mood swings that Ive got no control of (Chinatown Style) are repeated and flat citation doesnt do justice to how they assume a lingering affect through the nature of their recurring cycle and the naked but faint tenderness with which theyre voiced. The Body You Deserve completes the collection with more menace but after the concerted drama of the previous three it feels like an afterthought. Yet it feels necessary, rounding out everything with a sense of finality and alleviating the sincerity slightly, with absurd bodily metaphors (youre a car/to hot-wire) and quietly mannered and elaborate claims of clairvoyance (so chic/because were psychic) 

Given the adversity which loomed over the completion of their last full length, its unsurprising the length of time these eight tracks have demanded and the forms of departure they have taken from previous work. It would be reductive and high-handed to designate these tracks as purely personal and elegiac, as solely an expression of grief. Theyre certainly imbued with that kind of confrontation, but they dont feel restrained to these localities. Their span seems wider, encompassing manifold reactions and emotions surrounding lust, love, loss and more. 

A greater potential surprise than the time elapsed and the alterations made will be how convincingly the shift has been realized; how well the newfound sheen glistens. Unequivocally it was time well spent. The addition of Excepters Nathan Corbin on production duty seems to have aided their endeavour. 

It also seems fitting the album was recorded and shaped in environments of high temperature; in New Mexico, and in Australian and New York Summers. Theres a sense of heat throughout. The difference is the sudden lours and burns, previously a guitar-driven staple, are absent. Theyve moved into something less wily but equally intense; from an occasionally blistering singe to a cooler swelter suggestive of night air – or even the climate which might dictate the eponymous club (filled with draughts of cold comfort no doubt)

Enclosed in its extensive, enveloping haunt it has a magnetism which secures submission.

A fictitious club to get lost in.

Psychic 9-5 Club is out on 1st April. Pre order it over at Ghostly’s site.

Tim Wilson