HTRK, “Fast Friend (Demo)” (N & J Blueberries)
For people who think early Cowboy Junkies sound too cluttered and raucous, you may find Melbourne, Australia duo HTRK more in line with your chill demeanor. Consisting of vocalist Jonnine Standish and guitarist/producer Nigel Yang, HTRK (pronounced “Hate Rock”) have been honing their minimalist anti-torch songs since 2005.
It's hard to think of an artist working at the intersection of rock and electronic music who strips things down more severely than HTRK. We might have to go back to Welsh post-punk group Young Marble Giants' 1980 LP Colossal Youth to hear an equivalent sublime interiority. Last year's Rhinestones album may be the epitome of HTRK's murmuring intimacy. If you liked that one, you may also dig Death Is a Dream, a collection of demos and sketches derived from those sessions. These are ultimate bedroom tunes—fragile, beautiful, and fascinating. HTRK here abandon the harder edges heard on their earlier full-lengths Nostalgia, Marry Me Tonight, and Work (Work, Work). Every guitar chime, gentle drumbeat, and feather-soft vocal syllable on Rhinestones seems momentous.
The original “Fast Friend” on Rhinestones boasts a heart-wrenching melody, enhanced by the reverb on Standish's alluring, ennui-laden vocal, while Yang's guitar sparkles like jewels in moonlight. The demo version finds Yang on acoustic guitar and Standish's voice more unadorned. The splayed snare hits come at a desultory tempo, but are as emphatic as a face slap, contrasting with the spare, Cowboy Junkies-on-Pluto vibe. Standish sings like an Antipodean Tracey Thorn, exuding dulcet melancholy and making anomie sound erotic.
Standish's words describe a friendship whose vague riskiness is worth overcoming: “So many red flags just makes you seem interesting/What a connection to make/Expressions to fake/Keep up the pretense/With so many loose ends just makes you seem interesting/Don't you think the way we met is kind of unreal?/...I'll tell you everything/Are you okay? Are you all right?/Let's just do something for fun.” Enchantment ensues.
HTRK perform Wed May 11 at Substation with M. Caye Castegnetto.
Matt LaJoie, Trine (Longform Editions)
Based in Portland, Maine, Matt LaJoie is a veteran of the psychedelic-folk scene that thrives in America's Northeast. For many years in the '00s and '10s, he was in the duo Cursillistas with Dawn Aquarius, and they played the now-defunct Josephine in 2009. That year in The Stranger, I described their music as a “stoned strain of ooze-on-down-the-road sigh-chedelia. As always with music of this stripe, some will find it tediously dawdling while others will revel in the liquid blissfulness of it all. Overall, though, Cursillistas conjure an eerie, rural vibe that will cause folks to freak—very gradually and naturally.”
Another prominent LaJoie project, Herbcraft, skewed more overtly toward lysergic rock and maintained the trippy qualities that provide top-shelf escapism from this fatally flawed plane. Seek out “Journey to the Center of Your Hive” from 2012 album Flowering to understand the transcendental thrust that animates Herbcraft.
In solo guise, LaJoie presents a precise, slowly unspooling soundworld that facilitates meditation and beneficent pulse-lowering. Paraclete Tongue from 2021 bestowed four long tracks of spangly, languid guitar radiance that whisper, “all your worries are for naught.” It verges on the best New Age, meaning it's the bomb of balms and not whatever corny, uninformed concept about the genre you've been carrying in your noggin like a malignant tumor.
Paraclete Tongue segues perfectly into Trine, LaJoie's 33-minute, one-track album for Australia's outstanding digital label, Longform Editions. Trine emits those rarefied spiritual vibes that German mystic-rock deities Popol Vuh conjured on 1974's Letzte Tage – Letzte Nächte. Meaning, LaJoie has entered the pantheon of creators who through the power of the guitar transport receptive listeners to the uppermost stratum of bliss.
The piece begins with splintered, repetitive strums that hint at Durutti Column's Vini Reilly at this most contemplative. A few minutes in, LaJoie picks out an utterly beautiful motif that rings like an alarm clock to awaken your soul and open your chakras to infinite possibilities. Throughout Trine, he wrings subtle changes on this theme, adding layers of stardust to every note and chord. This sacred music steadfastly ascends with liturgical grace until you're agog with the star-spangled splendor of it all.
I can't say that I've heard everything LaJoie's done, because his discography is massive and days are not 48 hours long, but Trine has to be among the best work he—or anyone else in the underground now—has done.