Unpacking the title of an album is a lot more fun when it has meaning that goes beyond provocation or aesthetic appeal. HTRK’s (pronounced “Hate Rock”) first full-length record without founding member, bassist Sean Stewart, is called Psychic 9-5 Club, and its title, seemingly full of attitude without meaning, melds New Age ideas with dub to create a meditative zone of isolated consciousness.
Jonnine Standish (vocals) and Nigel Yang (guitar) wanted to explore the mental space that exists within the 9-5 time bracket and reclaim lost time. Any pencil-pusher who’s ever worked in an office knows that this is a special time slot reserved for surfing the net, a zombie state that is a balancing act between all-consuming helplessness to click-bait temptation, and the constant look-out alert to appear busy. HTRK succeed in capturing the mood of atrophy in 9-5 Club. This is no surprise, given that this is a sound that the band has been naturally progressing towards. With Work (work, work) (2011), bass-lines were already taking a backseat to synths, while HTRK’s signature preference for emotional detachment continues to hold as much influence and presence on the latest record as a whole as it did on their last effort.
HTRK infuse 9-5 Club with New Age spirituality that gets expressed through tracks like “Wet Dream” and “Love Is a Distraction”. They take on the solemn exterior of a breathing exercise where repetitive lyrics conveyed through Standish’’ monochromatic voice inspire meditative cleansing. Clearing the mind of cluttering thoughts, HTRK have a sense of humour in going about it that’s more Girls funny than Broad City funny. A song called “Wet Dream” repeats the light, memorable, teasing line “I’m in love with myself” over and over again, paired up with a heavy and oppressive atmosphere. “Love Is a Distraction” chants its eponymous title, an absurd meta-statement that sinks into the brain.
The playful nature of these tracks belies the sparse sonic landscapes they inhabit, starting with opening track “Give It Up”, a sad pop number that sounds as if Toro y Moi tried his hand at dub-lite. The instrumental “Feels Like Love” resonates with the best that’s come out of 80s synth revival with its use of organs and a laughing sample that gives it a touch of warmth and intimacy. “Soul Sleep” uses percussion engagingly in a dreamy track.
Psychic 9-5 Club is a slow-burning album that keeps the listener in a claustrophobic trance. The listener occupies a muffled head space that is anything but alert. It’s an album of deafening silence, despite having its moments of winks and nudges. The listener remains at a distance from the music even while losing himself to it, and there is no real mental space to be found but only mental spacing out.
For those who like dub with Sade-like vocals, HTRK’s newest offering is worth checking out.