A surprising mix of edgy electro and monochromatic cool, this Melbourne/Berlin trio have been amassing allies on both sides of the continent and this long awaited/long rumoured debut release is a tantalising prospect after such a wait. The choice of producer in former Birthday Party guitarist Rowland S. Howard is more than appropriate, the band themselves having expressed affection for Howard’s work as a solo performer as well with the Queen of Siam, Lydia Lunch. The dark undertones present in HTRK’s (‘Hate Rock’ for the uninitiated) work can almost seem like a continuation that also channels their love of Krautrock and Suicide.
Marry Me Tonight finds HTRK in a post-rock/electro embrace. It’s an impressive step forward from their debut EP, with the production here (co-helmed by the ubiquitous Melbourne producer Lindsay Gravina) placing a Martin Hannett-like sheen over the skeletal instrumentation. With songs that speak of jealousy and desire, it’s a more passive HTRK than one would expect, but the seductive charm of vocalist Jonnine Standish’s sedated coo-ings fits perfect, coming across like a dominatrix who’s grown weary of playing games while guitar Nigel Yang and bassist Sean Stewart play butler to her masquerade.
Through the loping drone of “Ha” with Standish’s coquettish “your girlfriend’s prettier than mine/can we get back together?“ into the spacious texture and simple melody of “Rentboy” there’s already enough ammunition in these two tracks to turn their no wave leanings into a new wave stance that could almost run parallel with that of Soft Cell (visions of HTRK deconstructing “Where Did Our Love Go” sound suddenly enticing). The world of HTRK, like that of Almond and Co., is dirty, dark and seedy and “Panties“ more than delivers on that front, Standish calling out sordid instructions over the sizzle of the drum machine.
Not all tracks hit their mark, “Your Mistress” and “Kiss Before The Fall“ both fall short of creating any kind of potent atmosphere, Standish’s vacant vocals flatlining over the funeral drum pattern. “Waltz Real Slow” hints of a side-step into Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” but doesn‘t make it through the door. “She’s Seventeen” delivers a change of pace, with Stewart’s bass getting a pronounced workout and Standish sounding omnipresent as her vocals envelope the song in waves. The dark disco of “Fascinator“ pulses with electro cool and icy emotion, and despite being placed near the end of the album, gives Marry Me Tonight its key moment.
HTRK are definitely a dark horse. Certain tracks pervade a desire for the abrasive while others are charged with a disarming melody that makes you want to love them. In this twilight setting Marry Me Tonight feels like the perfect soundtrack for narcotic reverie, with the groaning bass and metallic snap of the drum machine leaving the listener trapped between the junk and the junkyard. As a debut, it’s impressive and engaging, but falls just short of overwhelming.