HTRK: Work (work, work)

After the tragic death of bassist Sean Stewart last year, the remaining members of Australia’s HTRK –Nigel Yang and Jonnine Standish– have continued to record as a duo. Their latest release, Work (work, work), marks the beginning of a new route.

HTRK’s debut album, Marry Me Tonight (2009), produced by The Birthday Party’s Rowland S. Howard, was a modern take on the familiar musical connection between Berlin and Melbourne, a route frequented before by Howard himself, Nick Cave, Anita Lane, Phil Shöenfelt and other heroes of sultry, sticky new wave. Acute guitar structures and thick, uneasy basslines added an aggressively shuddering, no-wave influenced quality; Standish’s detached, blasé vocals completed the impression of intriguing discomfiture.

HTRK vocalist and co-composer Jonnine Standish, wearing Poltock & Walsh.

Work (work, work) is a different story, devoid of previous aggression, and filled instead with aloof blankness and withering instances of resignation. The music draws from popular retro-futuristic sources, exploring an imaginarium of digital decay, postindustrial wastelands, soulless end-of-days decadence and chemical cures for chronic anhedonia. There are echoes of mid-90s dystopian reverie, in which humans seek respite from their growing boredom and anxiety in cyberscapes or mechanical sex practices or drug delusions… although HTRK paints these millennial fears in more fashionable dress, using a production palette of all the sounds currently en vogue. Work (work, work) presents indifferent vocals, deeply steeped in slowly pouring, liquid-metal synths and distant waves of guitar noise. The songs, languidly spinning, encourage the listener to melt them together into a thick soup. Or paraffin. Or diesel oil.

The downtempo qualities can even evoke an image of post-2000 trip hop: washed out soul, dub influences, marijuana-induced laziness. Work (work, work) maintains  just as suffocatingly stuffy an atmosphere – and becomes equally as decorative as trip hop eventually grew to be. At times, it sounds like a nihilistic version of electronic sentimentalists and mood creators like The XX. The band’s new music has an oddly warm quality, yet it’s a warmth more resembling an engine cooling down than a sentimental smile.

Press photo: Nigel Yang & Jonnine Standish.

Purchase Work (work, work) and other HTRK output at your local indie record shop, or directly through their record label, Ghostly International.

Upcoming HTRK Tour Dates:

  • Sept 06 Portland OR – Mississippi Studios
  • Sept 07 San Francisco CA – Public Works
  • Sept 11 Los Angeles CA – The Echo
  • Sept 14 New York NY – Home Sweet Home
  • Sept 17 Brooklyn NY – Secret Project Robot
  • Oct 12 Krakow PL – Unsound Festival
  • Oct 24 London UK – The Garage
  • Oct 30 Kortrijk BE – Sonic City Festival

Leona Anderson’s “Music To Suffer By”

A human being, while undoubtedly a wonderful construction, lacks a certain structural element: a built-in music-playing system with unlimited playlists. Back in the 1950s and 60s, far-sighted producers tried very hard to provide a solution to this inconvenience.

Anyone who has ever been interested in record collecting and the wondrous world of obscure vinyl is surely familiar with precisely targeted vintage music made for practical purposes: Music to Lure Pigeons By, Music to Massage Your Mate By (exceptional cover and booklet!), Music for Cooking With Gas, Music for Morticians or Songs for Pizza Lovers. Among these many treasures of the Space Age, there’s a very special gem: Leona Anderson’s 1957 Music To Suffer By.

A former silent movie actress (who appeared in a number of films alongside Stan Laurel, Charlie Chaplin and her brother, “Bronco Billy” Anderson), Leona Anderson (1885-1973) did everything in her power to prove that her sobriquet, “The World’s Most Horrible Singer”, was absolutely well-deserved.

After years spent on desperate and futile attempts to learn proper opera techniques, Leona decided to make her apparent lack of talent her greatest selling point. Combining her vast knowledge of the opera –a lifelong passion– with her undisputed charm and a knack for comedy, “The Worst Opera Singer” shared her talents with viewers of the Ernie Kovacs television show, and eventually released the one-of-a-kind Music To Suffer By. The record consisted not only of delightfully slaughtered standards like “Habanera” from Carmen, but also original compositions, such as the haunting “Rats In My Room”, and “Limburger Lover”… quite possibly the only Limburger cheese-themed love song ever made.

The record’s presentation reveals Leona’s high musical literacy and a sense of humor and class, elevating her mock-opera collection above mere parody. Rather too sophisticated for outsider music, Music To Suffer By is oddly enchanting largely because of Leona’s self-awareness. She knew she wasn’t capable of ever learning how to sing properly, hence she put all of her efforts in creating this wonderfully bizarre gem of a record. It’s a perverse pleasure to suffer by.

The legendary collectible, previously available only on vinyl, has since been remastered and re-released in CD format by the infallible Trunk Records. An assortment of Leona’s mp3s can also be found on WFMU.

Other poised, yet off-kilter singers worth enduring:

Yotsuya Simon, Hans Bellmer’s Japanese Heir

Here’s a widely unknown, but interesting example of intercultural influence exchange: Hans Bellmer can be easily called the godfather of Japan’s thriving puppet scene. In fact, the majority of currently active Japanese doll designers graduated from the famous Ecole de Simon. Its founder, Yotsuya Simon, was the originator of the now thriving dollmaking scene.

In 1965, a young artist nicknamed Simon (because of his love for jazz, especially Nina Simone) learned about surrealism and avant-garde theater, which would influence him for the rest of his life. Soon after, he became a member of Jokyo Gekijo (Situation Theatre), which was considered one of the most progressive art movements in Japan at that time. Simultaneously, fascinated by Bellmer, Simon began to create his own ball-jointed dolls.

His most famous works – the Narcissisme and Pygmalionisme series – appear to be studies on the ambiguities of the human body. The life-like, waifish, pale bodies, surgically opened and exposed to the spectator’s eye, bear a mark of complete sadness, leaving the observer with a feeling of acute unease. One might raise the subject of ambivalent eroticism here: it’s remarkable that one of Yotsuya’s past exhibitions was named Dolls of Innocence.

Koen Demuynck’s Ads From Another Dimension

Striking, innovative photography is, apart from chocolate and comics, Belgium’s national treasure. Even the Royal Family themselves once commissioned Dirk Braeckman – an expert in depicting murky, disturbing interiors and their mostly undressed inhabitants – to take a series of portraits with a goth feeling. How appropriate for a country which gave us Les Disques Du Crépuscule and Front 242.

Another sensational creator of wondrous Belgian photograph is Koen Demuynck, who reveals very little about himself, letting the pictures express his uncanny imagination. His daring, surrealist approach to commercial photography quickly made Demuynck every art director’s dream associate and one of the busiest advertising photographers of today.

The heavily manipulated, weird landscapes and the most unbelievable juxtapositions make one curious to take a look inside his mind. Seeing gnomes constantly tripping on acid there wouldn’t be a surprise at all. Cats watering plants? Check. The secret of Stonehenge revealed? Check. A dog sorry for peeing on your house’s wall (how cute!)? Check.

Chronicles of Pop-archaeology: Romo

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God is dead – that’s nice! Sunglasses worn on head – that’s nice! (Minty, “That’s Nice”)

It’s official: the 1990s are back and Rediscovering Completely Forgotten Music phenomena (especially the Next Big Things which never became truly big) is about to become a fad. It’s quite probable that revival mania and pop-archaeology will eventually lead to finding a trace of Romantic Modernism, or Romo in short – one of the most ephemeral music movements of the past decade, which was born (and soon faded) in the UK circa 1995.

Said to be a stylish answer to Britpop’s penchant for sweatshirts, pubs and ‘lad culture’, Romo bands and their fandom tried to revive the glamorous spirit of 70s and 80s and merge it with ultra-modern, pre-millennium decadence. Japan, Roxy Music and Soft Cell were their model idols, but the early, eyeliner-and-leopard-print incarnation of Manic Street Preachers would be an equally appropriate reference.

The term (heavily promoted especially by Melody Maker‘s Simon Price) was an attempt to label a couple of bands which had little in common – except for ruffles, velvet and musical eclecticism pushed forward to the point of awkwardness. Most of these bands failed to release more than a single (those released are probably going to become rare collectibles very soon) and hence remained an obscure curiosity: Sexus, DexDexter, Plastic Fantastic, all of whom found themselves on the cover of Melody Maker before even recording anything. The Suede scenario definitely didn’t work in their case. Maybe because all of the aforementioned bands focused on their (honestly, amazing) looks rather than on writing good songs.

Two of the Romo bands were a bit more lucky – read about them after the jump.

The Ultimate Bunny Calm

You may never experience anything more meditative and calming than this. The short clip below has the amazing ability to turn nervous, fidgety thoughts into a state of pure halcyon, and I’m not the only one who says so! Many people who viewed this irresistibly cute video told me they felt literally mesmerized by the Rabbit Which Did Nothing.

The title is almost perfect. Almost, because the rabbit breaks his zen routine and cleans his paws at about 0:51. Oh, and he disapproves, like rabbits usually do, too. Apart from that small departure from the rule, the rabbit is definitely doing nothing throughout the entire 2:46 minutes. A friend suggests that looping and extending the length of the clip would make it the perfect video to John Cage’s “4’33”.

The only question remaining is whether it’s the mysterious fluffy being in the foreground who is, in fact, the true Rabbit Which Did Nothing.

Forest I Carry Inside

Guest blogger Olga Drenda writes about war crimes and home-made drugs for a living, but it’s fluffy rodents who are her true love. She hails from the land of pierogi, supermodels and death metal bands, and is an editor at

When going on an urban exploration trip, what do you expect to find in an abandoned building? Non-functioning devices, dilapidated furniture, calendars from 1975, some good graffiti on the walls, traces of cybergoth photo sessions. Sometimes you might even come across unexpected peculiarities like a carpet made of adult magazines and empty vodka bottles with rainbow-like, holographic labels (the last two, I’ve seen myself). However, occasionally you find something even more surprising, just like it happened earlier this year in Riga.

Inside a crumbling building (property the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art), the duo of fashion designers Mareunrol’s, together with Austrian scenographer Rūdolfs Bekičs, light artist Krišjānis Strazdītis and sound designer Kaspars Groševs created an unusual installation called Eden: a road to a luscious forest growing inside the structure. While the building was left unused for years, trees grew there on their own. With the help of Mareunrol’s and team, this abandoned space became a temporary shelter from the constant noise and hum of the outside world. After conquering a labyrinth of claustrophobic, somber corridors, the visitors entered a wild indoor microcosm, an urban garden of Eden.

But Eden isn’t the only indoor forest in existence. Another, completely different example, is Singapore’s Elok House. Constructed by Chang Architects, the “purposely wild”, however paradoxical it may sound, green area inside an utterly modern building is an oasis of foliage within one of the most industrialized cities on Earth.

Even if Elok House may be more designed rebellion than high art, the project is more than a mere decorative garden and and is still worth noticing. The architects indeed endeavored to equip the house with realistic forest qualities. Leaving enough room for plants to grow freely, letting rainwater collect in an indoor pond, covering the interiors with layers of moss is certainly more extreme than what most designers set out to achieve. The smell of wet soil completes the picture. I wouldn’t mind a squirrel or a deer running around, but even without them, the place – aseptic and nobly minimalist on the outside – appears to be alive enough to be called a radical statement of eco-design.

So how do you decorate an indoor oasis? Ayodhya‘s moss table certainly seems fitting – just looking at this photo makes me turn into a forest pixie in my imagination! The table would perfectly match a meal of blueberries and morning dew. And what about music? Apart from field recordings, which appear to be a natural choice when we think about forest surroundings, consider Pyramids and Stars. This little-known, but worthy of attention, music act with its aptly named song makes for a good soundtrack here.

Missoni Rising

Guest blogger Olga Drenda writes about war crimes and home-made drugs for a living, but it’s fluffy rodents who are her true love. She hails from the land of pierogi, supermodels and death metal bands, and is an editor at

Veteran of experimental cinematography and the main injector of Thelemic mysticism into the realm of film, Kenneth Anger, goes fashion. The director of Lucifer Rising and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome filmed a delightfully trippy promotional video for the renowned brand Missoni, starring members of the Missoni family who find themselves in the roles of shamans in rapturous visions.

Created in the signature Anger style, this multi-layered and otherworldly ad is a brave move in terms of fashion advertising as the Fall/Winter knitwear collection isn’t especially showcased, with the focus on visuals, instead.

The haunting soundtrack was recorded by French sonic artist Koudlam, who surprisingly fits here even better than classic occult troubadours, Current 93 or even Coil themselves might.

For those who miss a hint of ecstatic psychedelia in modern advertising, this is a must see. As a post scriptum, here’s another example of this re-emerging trend: in Chrissie Abbott’s ceramic design for Jaguar Shoes, you can find enlightened kitties of wisdom. Scroll down for cats! 93/93!