Work (work, work)
10 Track, LP (2011, Mistletone)
Work (work, work) is a confounding album by a band that seemingly delights in such gestures. It stands in marked contrast to HTRK’s only other long player, the Rowland S Howard-produced Marry Me Tonight. Of course, a lot has changed since that album, but few would have predicted as thorough a metamorphosis as has occurred on Work (work, work).
Since recording Marry Me Tonight in 2004, HTRK have embarked on a nomadic existence, between Melbourne, Berlin, and London. There has been a marriage, and, of course, a death. The untimely passing of bassist Sean Stewart has been much dwelt upon already, so there’s no need to linger here. It does, however, raise interesting questions regarding the material that became Work (work, work).
By Nigel Yang and Jonnine Standish’s account, HTRK had moved a long way from the organic, at-times violent sound of Marry Me Tonight already, and Stewart had considerable input on the material that became Work (work, work). (It was recorded over four years, between 2006 and 2010.) While Stewart’s distinctive bass grind is absent from the final product, so too are many of Yang’s once-ubiquitous guitar shards – and Standish’s galley-slave drums, for that matter. HTRK have refined their musical vocabulary, relying almost entirely on synthetic means to convey their anomic, yet sensual predilections.
Opener ‘Ice Eyes Eis’ is as good a place to start as any. It’s really just beautiful, not “glacial”, or “sensual”, or any other lazy descriptor that’s been thrown HTRK’s way. A long, descending chord progression, a slow drum machine pattern, sterile synth sounds everywhere, and Standish’s blank voice, intoning like an apocalyptic platform announcement. It could be from the soundtrack of a Logan’s Run remake. A good Logan’s Run remake.
‘Bendin’ is built on a sub-bass pulse, skittering beats and radio-interference drones. Giving shape to this mélange is a typically suggestive Standish chant about “forcing the sludge” and “forcing my entry”. Have I mentioned the sex thing?
It’s all over the record. Distant sex, desperate sex, three-way sex, futile head (“try to blow my cool while it’s still sinkin”). Work (work, work) is, at its heart, an album about love as a physical hunger, a hunger that brings out the best, worst, and strangest of the human condition. It might come across a bit tawdry, but the icy, abstracted quality of the delivery gives the material a depth that keeps it from descending into thrill-seeking hedonism.
Some listeners may find Work (work, work) to be a bit of a slog due to the lack of a focal point – vocal or instrumental – but Yang and Standish’s ability to efface themselves from their songs, along with the album’s strong thematic thread, gives the album its power. There are sonic variations, but they all occur within the unique aesthetic universe that HTRK have created.
Overall, Work (work, work) is a step up from Marry Me Tonight. Both are consistent and interesting, but the latter release has a more realised sound; a sonic sophistication to accompany HTRK’s very grown-up fixations.
by Edward Sharp-Paul