HTRK – Venus in Leo

Venus In Leo arrives five years on from HTRK’s Psychic 9-5 Club (2014). The fourth album from Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang is a mellow and eclectic release which feels vividly alive and up-to-date in its relevancy, returning to their underground rock origins via playful-yet-exposed sounds, raw and real lyrics, and a selection of light, cool vibes.

Yang’s softly strummed acoustic guitar introduces the listener to their world, and Standish’s vocals are light enough to flower the foreground. Rhythms have enough of an ‘outsider’ personality as they’re skewered into original beats, and the synth melodies are slightly unconventional. This always works to the benefit of both musician and audience. The much colder second track, ‘Mentions’, bemoans the lack of physical intimacy in the social media age. It contradicts with extreme lengths the warmth of the acoustic guitar in the opener, rueing the fact that ghosting rules the dating world, and the lack of love highlighted on a too-bright screen, the only warmth coming from the laptop’s inner fan; the cold and sterile screen is the only form of eye contact.

The online world communes without the warmth and the revelation of personality in the form of body language, and the misconstrued messages of ambiguous texts are left open to interpretation. The lyrics are injected with a kind of poetic realism, moving from the drunken debauchery of New Year’s Eve to the honest enough (but easily breakable) promises of a new start as a new year dawns, from a doomed first kiss to the dramas of adolescent love via a splurge of alcohol and the consequences of instant gratification.

Recorded in HTRK’s studio in the Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne, Australia, and supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, Venus In Leo is a composed and colourful record in which sparse, spacious, and restrained arrangements fall into sync with heartfelt songcraft. The heart-tugging ache – which is almost a physical pain – of waiting on love, and the possibilities of it being unrequited, populates the title track, and her understated vocals continue on in ‘You Know How To Make Me Happy’, where the synth progression lines up with a slinky beat. The lyrics are made all the more expressive and emotive for their quiet, subdued ways: it’s a true partnership, because the electronics and vocals never drown each other out.

The snappy beats of ‘New Year’s Day’ are at odds with her tired vocal. According to her, it’s 2 in the morning (which more than accounts for the exhaustion), but the rhythms remain bright with possibility, still high on adrenaline, while the acoustic guitar returns for the coda, bookending the album. These life experiences never grow old; all of us experience them, and that makes for incredibly relevant music. So much so, it never goes out of date.

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