Strange, achingly beautiful pop songs from the HTRK member.
For these reasons it's no surprise that HTRK's Jonnine Standish has turned out one of the most beautiful quarantine albums yet. She recorded her new tape for Boomkat, Blue Hills, at home in the lush Dandenong Ranges an hour outside of Melbourne in the home she shares with her husband, Conrad Standish (of CS + Kreme). The spare, bass guitar-driven pop songs are full of melodies that Jonnine might sing while going through her daily stay-at-home routine, drifting from room to room like a ghost.
As we heard on last year's excellent HTRK full-length, the skeletal indie-style Venus In Leo, some light is beginning to seep into the HTRK universe. "It's not as sad anymore because we're not as sad," is how Standish put it in an interview with Kaput. Much of Blue Hills feels sunny and airy by HTRK standards. The backing vocals on tracks like "Can You Get Me There" are downright playful. The spare instrumentation—melodic bass guitar, snare drum, queasy synth and oblique orchestration—means many of these songs sound somewhere between a shambolic marching band and a lysergic doo-wop song, Standish layering her own vocals in a bizarre round.
Lyrically, this material is among Standish's strongest to date. On the lurching title track she juxtaposes a private conversation, "You're the best thing that I've had / because you want all the things that I have," with evocative descriptions of setting. "And when the birds sing, they sing just for you... they live in blue hills." She also inserts a subtle motif via the falsetto backing vocals that pop up on "Can You Get Me There," and later on the dreamy, resigned closer "Let The Waves Roll." On both songs, Standish plays her own Motown-backing singers, piping in "walking on... a tightrope," an apt metaphor for a pandemic if there ever was one.
While Standish began releasing her therapist-encouraged solo music on last year's Super Natural 12-inch, it's on Blue Hills that she truly strikes out on her own. Only the mantra-like "I Chase You Like Light On A Sundial" co-opts HTRK's trademark narcotic Roland beats and gloomy, synth-driven atmosphere. Mostly, Standish forges into new, related territory, peppering her concise songs with impromptu shards of vocals, guitar, synth and piano. It's achingly beautiful and a little sad, just like you'd expect.