Album of the Day: HTRK, “Venus in Leo”

The Australian band HTRK make stylishly lunar music—craggy, alien, and unmistakable. An intense longing for intimacy, connection, and sensation has always coursed through their records, from the brutally slow post-punk of their debut EP Nostalgia to the trip-hop textures of 2014’s Psychic 9-5 Club. On “Into The Drama,” the opening track to the band’s latest album, Venus in Leo, vocalist Jonnine Standish, accompanied by Nigel Yang’s wide open, flanged acoustic guitar, ponders those internal concerns explicitly. “Why do I seem to fall?” she sings, lamenting a tendency to gravitate towards unhealthy people, to “hang onto every word.” It’s the most pastoral moment the group have ever laid to tape, and serves as a declaration of intent for the album—the most guitar-oriented record they’ve made in years, as well as the best. But there is no trace of the abrasiveness of their earlier work. Instead, Yang’s guitar playing is melodic, textured and nuanced, processed just to the point of estrangement. Whereas HTRK’s previous records conjured a nocturnal atmosphere primed for bedrooms and clubs, Venus In Leo feels remarkably open and unconstrained: a wide, deep LP with room to spare.

HTRK have always been excellent curators of atmosphere, conjuring eerily specific moods with minimalist efficiency. But on Venus In Leo, Standish’s narratives of memory and unexpected revelation are given gravity by some of the most beautiful and indelible pop moments of her band’s career. On the penultimate track, “New Year’s Day,” Standish documents a moment of inebriated dread and despair familiar to anyone who’s felt themselves getting older and struggled with their resolutions to grow or improve. The verses are tense, with her terse vocal delivery punctuated by Yang’s humid, chiming guitar. But Standish makes an unexpected leap up for the songs aching resignation of a chorus. “I’ve got a sinking feeling,” she sings, doubled by Yang’s guitar, her voice slipping back down at the word “sinking,” “I’m going to do the wrong thing, eventually.” It’s a stark parallel to the subsequent closer, “New Year’s Eve,” where Standish recalls a youthful, frightened confession of love with a sweet, nursery rhyme melody. Something about wanting remains tentative and uncertain throughout our lives. With Venus In Leo, HTRK provide an exemplary soundtrack to wanting, and wanting to know.

-Miguel Gallego

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