HTRK mint their new label with a perfectly formed 5th studio album - in our opinion a career best - finding the duo stripped to a quietly cathartic, windswept arrangement of bare vocals rent with spectral webs of guitar and synth in a modern, classic, wholly inimitable style that will lodge itself deep in your heart. AOTY gear especially recommended if yr into anything from Dean Blunt to Mark Hollis, Gillian Welch to Slowdive.
Recorded in their native Dandenong Ranges, Australia earlier this year, ‘Rhinestones' contains some of HTRK's most aching/gratifying songwriting secreted in subtly plangent sheets of dubbed guitar, synth pads and crackling 808s that foge a sort of quasi-Americana that feels both intimately familiar and entirely new. It’s an album that seems to have been precision-tooled for tortured romantics and atomised souls, reverberating with a gentle pathos that’s therapeutic to succumb to.
The metaphysical soul of their songcraft somehow bleeds out more clearly than ever, infusing every song from the heartbreak pucker of ‘Kiss Kiss and Rhinestones’ to the intoxicating, spirit-catcher sway of ‘Gilbert and George’ with the tumescent glow of MDMA-tingled flesh and the uncanniest air of déjà vu. All nine songs land with a level of sound sensitivity that reveals every shimmering string, pad and echoic snare contrail like a halo around Jonnine’s voice, which regales tales of love, friendship and the mysteries of the night with an observant, diaristic directness that has a devastating emotive clout.
In key with the times, the songs feel like the soundtrack to emptied cities, casting gothic shadows in the spellbinding reverbs of ‘Valentina’ and mottled beauty of ’Siren Song,’ with the fragged ketrock of ‘Fast Friend’ imagining a séance with Prince and Anna Domino, while Conrad Standish (CS + Kreme) lends bass guitar gilding to the empty saloon sashay of ‘Real Headfuck,’ and ’Straight To Hell’ basks in a transition between the golden and crepuscular hours. Oh - and 'Sunlight Feels like Bee Stings’ - what a title?!
For real, no other band do it quite like HTRK, and ‘Rhinestones’ feels like their purest iteration, conjured in a mist of feeling, love and inebriation.