Austrian live-electronic act HVOB quietly released its second album Trialog last week amidst a thread of stateside tour dates and little fanfare. Although the duo has achieved a level of notoriety in their native Vienna, the pair of Anna Müller and Paul Wallner are still very much an unknown quantity on this side of the Atlantic. This will not be the case for long.
Trialog's ten tracks are a near-flawless exercise in a deep, moody, melodic techno that underscores the whispered vocals of Anna Müller as they sit atop Paul Wallner's immersive and sophisticated beats. The album takes club tones and wraps them into forward-facing song structures, all laced with a subtle confluence of dark and light that alludes to the dream combination of Radiohead's Kid A meeting Purity Ring on the grounds of minimal club music.
"Azrael," the album's opener, deftly introduces the sonic atmosphere. Wallner's production is assured – The tune does so much with single note melodies and space. It's not until four minutes in that another note is introduced, let alone Müller's vocals. Even though it's one of the least song-centric tracks on the album, it functions as a primer on restraint that frames the listening experience. The video, released today, is below.Trialog is already a departure from the sound put forth on HVOB's self-titled 2013 debut. "I think it's a little bit darker, with more techno and it's more grown-up," says the demure and disarming Müller in between bites of strawberries on the eve of HVOB's debut gig in Los Angeles. "Playing in clubs so much over the past two years, it was a natural process for us to develop in this way."
The anticipatory energy at their debut show in Los Angeles at Couture last week was like a first date, with both sides cradling high expectations and bated breath. As soon as the first note hit, though, the ice was broken and the crowd at the petite venue remained well after last call to eke out the most from the moment. We knew we were witnessing something special.
This situation is familiar territory for HVOB. "It's like in Europe two years ago. Nobody knew us then," says Müller. "Most of the time people in the club were thinking, 'Who the fuck are they? They come with a drummer and she's singing and playing the piano, I wanna dance! it's 2 'o clock in the morning!' But after ten minutes, everybody's dancing and they're on our side. In Miami last week, it was like that as well."
The trend in stateside dance at the moment is towards adding live elements to DJ sets. Most are not able to pull it off, not even close. You can be the most adroit producer or DJ in the world, but if you don't feel music, with your hands, that lack of connection becomes obvious from the first note of a performance. HVOB are the example of how to do it right. Within their songs, organic and electronic stride in lockstep towards music that isn't only timeless, but placeless: the club, your car, headphones, laptop speakers, Trialog works anywhere you play it.
Even beyond instrumentation, HVOB's aesthetic is a finely tuned multimedia project. Their visuals, from album covers to music videos to installations, are the result of a collaboration between the group, visual art crew Lichterloh, and artist Clemens Wolf. Müller explains: "Our albums are more like art projects. Every song is linked to art, every track is a process. The song "Window," for example, is about mixing. You see, in the video, colors getting mixed, and the you can hear it in the lyrics, the video, the sounds. We were recording the sounds of mixing in the beginning of "Window." You can hear the drops."
The duo don't appear in any of their videos and you're lucky to even catch a glimpse of them in their press materials. "From the beginning, we tried to make clear what is important," explains Müller. "It's the music and not the people behind it. We don't want to hide, and we don't want to be anonymous, but the music is the star, not Paul and me. We don't want to be important!"
Despite their best efforts, HVOB may become important very soon, as evidenced by the support their music earns in the pockets of the world in which it finds itself. "We've been to four continents in three months. We came straight from Asia," says Müller. "I was a little bit afraid of Asia because I couldn't imagine that anybody knew us there. I hoped that there would be, maybe, 20 people at our shows, but in India, it was sold out and everybody knew the lyrics. I had to stop myself from crying on stage."
A recent stop in Johannesburg, South Africa bore a similar response. It seems the world, city by city, is catching on to one of the most quietly triumphant releases in recent memory. As HVOB depart American shores towards a second leg of a sojourn that'll see them criss-cross from Beirut to Berlin to Cairo and Stockholm, the album they whispered into the world while here will echo in wait of their return.
Jemayel Khawaja is Managing Editor of THUMP.