Venus in Leo

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It's hard to talk about Australian group HTRK without mentioning the tragedies they've faced since their formation. They recorded their first studio album, 2009's Marry Me Tonight, with Rowland S. Howard shortly before his death from liver cancer, and founding member Sean Stewart committed suicide halfway through the recording of 2011's Work (Work, Work). Throughout all of this, guitarist Nigel Yang and vocalist Jonnine Standish have persevered, continuing to create astonishing music that is emotionally heavy yet remarkably intimate, and not as unbearably dour as one might expect. Venus in Leo arrives five years after Psychic 9-5 Club, their first album fully recorded as a duo, and while the slow, measured drum machines and airy echo immediately identify this as a HTRK release, the lyrical content makes this one stand apart from their past work. Standish directly addresses feelings of physical attraction, lust, and disappointment, particularly in the era of social media. On the killer first single "Mentions," she laments "You're passing up on the real stuff/It's not nearly physical enough, for me." "Dying of Jealousy" expresses what its title suggests, with another instantly memorable vocal hook set against vaporous guitar and pittering drum machines. A surprising cover of Missy Elliott's "Hit 'Em Wit Da Hee" appears midway through the album, with Standish repeating the chorus and a few lines of one of the verses over foggy, subdued synths and trippy drum machines, and it fits smoothly into the band's aesthetic. Even more so than the seductive "You Know How to Make Me Happy," HTRK have never sounded more romantic than on the unabashedly pretty "New Year's Eve," wherein Standish inquires "Could I kiss you at midnight, when we could hang out sometime?" Every bit as excellent as their previous two full-lengths, Venus in Leo is HTRK's most sensuous material yet, and the type of album that provokes repeated, enraptured listens.

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