It's been a tough road for Australia's HTRK. Halfway through the recording sessions for 2011's Work (Work, Work), bassist and founding member Sean Stewart was found dead of an apparent suicide, leaving guitarist Nigel Yang and singer Jonnine Standish to stagger on, completing the album as a duo. When finally released, the album was well-received, marking a sad success story for the remaining members, yet leaving them understandably shaken. If Work was an attempt to maintain the original lineup's vision in the face of tragedy, then 2014's Psychic 9-5 Club is an attempt to turn the page and evolve. Spare and resonant, the new songs still echo with the band's familiar dub effects, but express newfound tenderness and warmth as Standish's subdued voice celebrates love (in many forms), sexuality, and acceptance. Low, gently throbbing beats and subtle electronics leave plenty of headroom in HTRK's sparse new reality, making songs like "Give It Up" and "Chinatown Style" challenging, but ultimately enchanting, listens. The entire record is very mood-heavy and its downtempo languidity occasionally makes it difficult to recognize standout moments, but they are there. Under the heavy pulse of a song like "The Body You Deserve" is humanity, wit, and some dreamily elegant pop. Standish's voice isn't particularly strong or emotive, but she wields it effectively within the confines of HTRK's moody textures, and with all of the open space in the songs, there's nowhere for it to hide. For Yang's part, his focus on low-end soundscapes and understated beats pairs well with Standish's quiet reserve. Psychic 9-5 Club is indeed a new chapter for HTRK as they strip away nearly everything, finding unexpected strengths.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger