The latest by iconic slowburn Australian duo HTRK is an elegant nine song suite of windswept emotion and heartbreak noir, crafted in skeletal arrangements of guitar, voice, metronomes, and FX. Inspired by a recent infatuation with “eerie and gothic country music,” Rhinestones moves from whispered lament to acoustic eulogy to downtempo vignettes, tracing muted embers of loss and lust through haunted city streets. Taking cues from the economy and brevity of western folk but skewed through a narcotic, nocturnal lens, the album maps enigmatic badlands of strung out beauty and lengthening shadows.
Nigel Yang cites friendship as a central muse, “particularly the forging of it, and its potential for new feelings of telepathy and trust.” Jonnine Standish’s wounded, alluring vocals echo similar mysteries of connection and unknown crossroads, poetic but direct, dream diaries faded with age and rain. The rhinestones of the title evoke the glittering plastic of cowboy glamor, yet “made precious somehow;” Standish cites as an example a baby blue star brooch from Texas, gifted to her “from a stoned friend on New Year’s Eve 10 years ago in Brighton – cheap keepsakes can be more valuable than diamonds.”
Even for a group as enduringly versatile as HTRK, Rhinestones is a revelation, condensing their lyrical alchemy to its simmering, magnetic essence. “Sunlight Feels Like Bee Stings,” “Reverse Déjà vu,” and “Gilbert and George” in particular are masterpieces of drama, delivery, and distillation, dried flowers clouded by smoke, the candle’s flame flickering but unforgotten: “Some things are not like the others / Some friends are not like the others / did I ever say / did I ever say / did I ever say thank you?