In some ways Psychic 9-5 Club feels like a sequel to Work (work, work). The titles of both records reflect the band's unease about day jobs—"We both really like the idea of that energy that can exist between the hours of nine to five, which for a lot of people are wasted hours, or hours of just going through the motions," Standish recently told Dazed. Vanity and body image still loom large—before we had "Skinny," now we have "The Body You Deserve" and "Wet Dream." Most essentially, HTRK's sound is once again driven by a kind of erotic angst—the same thing that made Portishead so good.
But if the themes are familiar, the delivery is more refined. HTRK have a lighter touch here than they ever have before. The compositions are thoroughly minimalist, each one little more than a few understated loops and Standish's smoky moans. Dubbed out with reverb and delay, the skeletal beats have a hypnotic, mirage-like quality. The lyrics, meanwhile, are more subtle and pithy. There are the oblique phrases HTRK's always done well ("bones go day-glo"), as well as simple, disarmingly personal refrains. In "Chinatown Style," Standish coos something like "you know / I got / mood swings that I got no control of." But you know that isn't quite it—as with My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, some of the lyrics are only half-intelligible, and more powerful for it.
A deep languor defines Psychic 9-5 Club—the overall vibe is part séance, part post-coital cigarette. Even its broodiest moments have a kind of sexy elegance to them. There are glimmers of sweetness, too, like the warm chords of "Soul Sleep," or the instrumental "Feels Like Love," where we actually hear Standish laughing. This odd marriage of dread and tenderness has a way of getting under your skin. As cryptic as it is, Psychic 9-5 Club is very easy to love.