HTRK didn’t think much of the Melbourne (Australian) obsession with garage rock in the early part of the 21st century, so they used that as inspiration for their name and headed to London, via an extended stopover in Berlin. The cities themselves could give an indication of HTRK’s sound, particularly when seen in conjunction with the name ‘Roland S. Howard’ loudly heralded as producer on the back of the packaging. The shadow of The Birthday Party certainly looms large, as does krautrock, early Public Image Limited, Suicide and a myriad of other post-punk/no-wave tangents. Which is not to say it’s completely derivative, just that the band is happy to be part of a lineage.
There are 4 elements to HTRK’s sound : 1. Sparse, primitive drum machine loops; 2. Sean Stewart’s repetitive bass riffs which drive through entire songs unchanging; 3. Nigel Yang’s abstract guitar bursts, at times abrasive, at others mercurial and detached; 4. Jonnine Standish’es fey, androgynous vocal monotones. It’s a simple mix, but the band milk it for all its worth and the overall effect is for the listener to be enveloped in the band’s unchanging mood. It’s very hypnotic. Highlighting individual tracks seems a little pointless – the sheer unchanging magnitude of each track means the album kind of works as a single suite, the changes from track to track serving where a regular pop song might change from verse to chorus to bridge. Indeed, HTRK slow the pop structure down to a funereal drawl then suck all energy into their black hole. The lightness of the digital drums also gives more an otherworldly ambience. They never scale the sheer chaos of The Birthday Party or Keith Levine/Jah Wobble’s Public Image Ltd, but that’s probably what helps stop them from sounding like retro-ists. They do offer their own ideas to the equation – most potently a deliberate lethargy which lays a hazy blanket over all proceedings. Lyrically, the aesthetic is consistent, with a minimal amount of vaguely provocative lyrics repeated – “We could make it if I met you in a different head space/I could make it/We could shake it if I met you in a different head space/I could shake it”.
Marry Me Tonight is an album with a very specific and, dare I say, narrow aesthetic. HTRK, however, are masters of that chosen aesthetic and drive it mercilessly across the 37 minutes of the album. The end result is mesmerising.