How to destroy angels_ – [Album]

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Even the most steadfast and true followers in Trent Reznor's fan base have to admit that Nine Inch Nails records were beginning to get formulaic and samey toward band's (first) end. The Slip and Ghost I-IV exemplify the fairly static turn that the music had taken; Reznor had cut himself loose from the major label machine hoping it would help to shake him out of the creative rut that even he knew he was in, but the results were perfectly mixed and ranged from forgettable to poor. The future did not look bright by then and it was decidedly uncertain.

Trent Reznor was in trouble and he knew it. Happily though, he was brave enough to ask for help and that proved to be all he really needed; How to destroy angels_ is the first endeavor Trent Reznor has ever undertaken which could qualify as a band effort – three people, three personalities, three sets of sensibilities – and the results on their debut album, Welcome Oblivion, are an immediate breath of fresh air.

Listeners will immediately be able to hear the difference in vibe, feel and execution on Welcome Oblivion from the moment “The wake-up” shakes the record to life. Here, Trent Reznor's presence is apparent (the electronic beats imply Nails' styling, and he does throw a few vocal efforts in), but that presence is not stifling in the slightest. Rather, Mariqueen Maandig (Reznor's wife) takes the lion's share of the vocal responsibilities and compatriot Atticus Ross (the producer with whom Reznor shared the Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Social Network) adds his flavor to the composition and production. The result is positive right away; the electronic instruments slither and slip around Maandig's voice and set up both a beautiful and beautifully ominous sound. Listeners will be held intrigued by that, but what's also fascinating is that the sound is so perfectly single-minded; it's impossible to decide which parts of the song were undoubtedly contributed by Reznor, until his voice appears in the second half of the song.

Much of the rest of Welcome Oblivion follows the “hands off” precedent set by Reznor on “The wake-up” and, without meaning to sound overly critical, the best songs on the album are those where it's impossible to point to a particular element or moment and say, “That's Trent Reznor's contribution, right there!” because it is the record's defining characteristic. For example, the thing which makes the title track a captivating experience is the barrage of synthesizers which tackle listeners early and hold them down without mercy until Maandig redeems them with some beautiful, soothing lyrical stanzas. Conversely, it's the playful instrumental snippets and shockingly poppy (in a Sheryl Crow sort of way) melody in “Ice Age” which defines the song – not the crackling, clattering synthetic percussion that Reznor likely added to the mix. In both of those instances, there are elements which are just about as far as it's possible to get from what everyone expects to hear from Trent Reznor, but the contrast of the sound against the expectation could be seen as the most “Nails-y” thing about the music (sort of an update on the “Doesn't that make you feel better?” break in Downward Spiral) – it's certainly the point from which the excitement in listening to this album springs.

As Welcome Oblivion continues, it gets increasingly adventurous (by any standard really, but especially compared to what fans have come to expect from Trent Reznor), and listeners will find themselves looking brightly at the longest reaches that the album makes; particularly when they hear the Top Forty pop vamp of “How Long?,” the loose and light mock-up of a great pop number that Depeche Mode or Duran Duran forgot to write (called “Strings and attractors”) and the odd, sort of warped but retro and danceable instrumental “Recursive self-improvement.” Those instances are especially remarkable because they'll see listeners starting to truly believe that fresh starts and new beginnings are possible – even for artists who (like Trent Reznor) have been in the game for a quarter century; there's certainly a strong argument for the chance at a fresh start here.

The possibility that Trent Reznor may get creatively energized or reborn by the new ideas presented on Welcome Oblivion is, without question, the most exciting thing about both this band and this album. While there's little doubt that everyone assumed he could do something like this, there's also little doubt that anyone ever thought he ever would. Welcome Oblivion is an enormous and fantastic step in a new direction for Trent Reznor and it'll be exciting to see what other possibilities he entertains in the future.


How to destroy angels_ – Welcome Oblivion – “Keep It Together” – [mp3]
How to destroy angels_ – Welcome Oblivion – “How Long?” – [mp3]


Welcome Oblivion
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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