HTRK's Ghostly International debut Work (work, work) is a flat-lined study of desire and submission, sentimentality and dysphoria. The London by way of Berlin and Melbourne art-rock duo (pronounced Hate Rock) finished the albums production while grieving the sudden loss of founding member and bassist Sean Stewart to suicide in March '10. And while that tragedy has certainly found its way into the musics bottomless sonic void, Work (work, work), written from 2006-10 in Berlin and London, is about much more than abject darkness. Much, much more.
On Work (work, work), HTRK craft a stark soundscape: achingly slow 808 beats, eerie synth arpeggios, vaporous guitar noise, and Jonnine Standish's androgynous, detached vocals, dripping with reverb. And yet it's the careful way the pair combine those elementsorganizing and juxtaposing them with a minimalists attention to detailthat makes their music so emotionally devastating. "Ice Eyes Eis" starts things off by enveloping you in a slippery erotic zone, in which a German sex TV babe splays herself over a molasses-slow beat and clouds of dry-ice atmosphere. The creeping "Eat Yr Heart" embodies HTRKs touch with sonic unease, showcasing a high-pitched horror-movie synth obligato that flits like a swarm of bats around Standishs declarations of longing (glucose, cellulose, saccharine/ you fill me up then make me starve, eat yr heart). Late-album highlight Love Triangle takes a more sensuous tone, describing a perfect three-person encounter (he on she on me / she on me on he / bermuda bermuda bermuda) over textured guitar swirls and a languorous drum-machine march.
For all of Work (work, work)'s more abrasive elements, its sense of bleakness and mourning, one finds a surprisingly romantic core. A sense of doomed melancholy, a heavy heart, lives below the layers of a murky and heavy space. HTRKs remaining members, Jonnine Standish and guitarist Nigel Yang, sweeten their heavier sonic reference points (Pan Sonic, Suicide, et al) into songs of love and lust, creating an imaginary party record for the end of time. And what of all that work? In the end, HTRK's album title seems both to refer to the tireless craft that went into its creation, as well as Standish and Yangs endless quest to extract beauty from melancholy.