Jonnine Standish

HTRK’s ‘Secret Thirteen’ mix tape reviewed

7 August 2013

HTRK debuted with the sultry, claustrophobic, Rowland S. Howard-produced new wave of Marry Me Tonight in 2009, but following the tragic death of bassist Sean Stewart, the now-duo (Nigel Yang and Jonnine Standish) revealed a change in course. Work (Work, Work) (2011) discomforted the listener with a sensation of slowly poured puddles of cool aural ectoplasm and an air of Ballardian detachment; echoes of a rock nerve, present in song structure and noise elements, were counterbalanced by suffocating, dense clouds of down-tempo digital fog and the distracted, half-fatigued vocal lines of Standish. This frayed, highly-strung atmosphere became the duo’s trademark, regardless of preferred musical idioms, further proven by the Part Time Punks Radio Sessions split LP with Tropic of Cancer (an indisputably perfect match for HTRK), where the late-80’s Goth influence of The Cure and 4AD also snuck in.

If this newly released mix tape by Yang for Secret Thirteen is supposed to represent another fresh direction for HTRK, the future looks more than promising, even if the change might be considered radical. Influenced by Yang’s developing interest in lucid dreaming, this gathering of inspirations steers away from the new and no wave sympathies towards a contemplative tranquillity. The multidimensional and decidedly psychedelic mixture encompasses traditional music (opening with Hindustani classical singer Pandit Pran Nath’s raga), canonical ambient (Brian Eno, Jon Hassell), alongside the surprising inclusions of environmental/field recording artist Rinus van Alebeek and out-of-this-world experimentalist Werkbund. The ascension into an all-engulfing trance develops slowly, as particular tracks merge and overlap in an organic rather than synthetic manner. If the selections are to be read as predictive, it may suggest that HTRK’s trademark unease and claustrophobia are soon to be inverted in favour of scope and balance, as if Ballard and David Lynch made way for Castaneda and D. T. Suzuki.

Seamlessly joined by a common thread of meditative traits, repetition and immersion in sound, Yang’s mix invites the listener to participate fully in mind-expanding submergence by sonic means – and succeeds on this level, especially when played repeatedly. Aside from that, the Secret Thirteen mix is a thoughtful example of the ‘practical’ or ‘applied’ use of music in an era where the stigma of the somewhat-pejoratively named ‘World’ or ‘New Age’ genres has been all-but washed away. After the re-embracing of lavish, progressive 1970s synthesizer sounds by the likes of Emeralds and early Stellar OM Source, or the intriguing hoax of Jürgen Müller’s Science of the Sea, a wave of guilt-free ambient revivalism followed, epitomised as much by the earnestness of Dolphins Into The Future, as it is by the playful neon knowingness of Transmuteo. We’re yet to see whether HTRK are to become full, crystal pyramid-carrying members of the movement, but for now, we receive an intriguing preview of the latest twists in their continued evolution. **

HTRK’s third album is due out early 2014.

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