I take relative comfort in the notion that millions of NIN fanboys across the globe would wish their hero Trent Reznor nothing but absolute happiness in his personal life. In spite of this, the collective teeth grind was audible when the moody prince done fell in love and simultaneously said so long to all those beloved, angst ridden, head banging industrial anthems. Whilst I suspect we are yet to hear the last from NIN, we are, in the meantime left to console ourselves with Reznors latest incarnation How To Destroy Angels, featuring wife Mariqueen Maandig and long-time collaborator Atticus Ross.
First impressions? Well, for me, it’s impossible to listen to the six songs that make up this digital release without likening them to somewhat toned down NIN compositions + female vocals. I mean, even Maandigs voice, in its hushed delivery is reminiscent of her husband’s at its most fragile (no pun intended). The backdrop, whilst less chaotic and more electronic is still menacing enough to bring to mind Reznors previous work, it’s almost as if the staple NIN sound has been manipulated and toned down to fit a slightly more laid back, “Massive Attack” style vocal. Characteristically, it is obvious that Reznor is pulling the strings here, but then given his track record and distinct voice as an artist, I can’t honestly say this is much of a surprise.
Whilst not a comparison as such, it struck me when listening to this EP that there are certain parallels to be drawn between HTDA and latest indie darlings Sleigh Bells. Both bands feature male musicians progressing from the varying successes of their respective ‘heavier’ outfits and taking a backseat in their new ventures, allowing their (historically) less successful female counterparts to take centre stage. I’m not suggesting they sound alike or that one should be used as reference point for the other but having listened to both debuts in reasonably quick succession, I can only concede that I was left blown away by Sleigh Bells and distinctly underwhelmed by HTDA. The similarities stretch thin when you consider the ambitions and attitudes of each band, Sleigh Bells threw caution to the wind with Treats and it paid off. Reznor however , just seems to be going through the motions and playing it safe with HTDA, sticking to a tried and tested framework on which these six songs are loosely hung.
I’m not trying to be negative here, I should quantify that I have been a fan of most everything that Reznor has put his name to in the past and that there is nothing inherently wrong with HTDA, I just kind of hoped for something a little more adventurous. The EP concludes with ‘A drowning’, a song patient in its approach that incorporates those signature piano flourishes weaving their way in and out of a persistent but pedestrian electronic beat, the whispered melody is not catchy as such but tuneful nonetheless. Maandigs most assured vocal performance yet, elevates the finale far beyond the reaches of anything else on offer here and serves as a tantalising indicator of what HTDA may be capable of. The ironic sense of melancholy that ‘A Drowning’ evokes is not lost on me and only begs the question; how would this have sounded with Trent on the mic?
Regardless of the above, HTDA is available for FREE download here
02 Don’t Cry
05 Memory Boy
06 Desire Lines
07 Basement Scene
09 Fountain Stairs
11 He Would Have Laughed
For me, the beauty of Person Pitch lies in the feeling of impending andventure and nervous excitement that I experienced upon first listen. I can only liken it to being fully conscious and aware that I was imminently embarking upon on a life changing journey. From the myriad of elements and layers that made up each song, right the way to the list of influences printed in the sleeve; it felt almost daunting that there were so many avenues and tangents to explore. The record seemed so dense and unconquerable at first but repeated listens allowed it to grow and unfold in to a truly extrordinary and personal experience. I say personal because I fully believe that this music is best experienced immersed through headphones and in my opinion is not particularly suited to the live environment.
These are reasons why I am slightly skeptical about the way Noah Lennox has chosen to release his new material, a series of 7″ singles on different labels leading up to the full album release supposedly due September. It’s plausible this approach can be attributed to an artist searching for new and original ways to release new music but I can’t help feeling that hearing the songs individually ahead of the albums release will diminish that anticipation and ritual of digesting the completed record. Of course, I could choose to patiently not listen to these singles but given the time passed since Person Pitch and my levels of excitement, I simply lack the will power.
What we have with these two songs is more of the same if I’m honest, plenty of repetition and reverb with the addition of some spoken word samples and I swear to god a panting dog, plus it all still sounds like it’s being played underwater. These songs are almost exactly what I was hoping for and I have to say that after around 15-20 spins, slow motion is the stronger of the two tracks. As I would expect, the songs grow and take on new meaning with repeated listens, I am somewhat relieved that there are no awkward silences whilst we are expected to come to terms with artistic changes in direction and “new sounds”. This is after all Panda Bear, a slightly more assertive and confident Panda Bear, but it’s Panda Bear all the same.
Sleigh Bells debut album Tell ‘em insists on manifesting itself metaphorically in my mind for some reason. Whilst listening I picture a strange image repeatedly which I can only assume is my knee-jerk way of justifying or somehow making sense of these chaotic 11 tracks. Essentially, this characterless scenario involves the bedrooms of a brother and sister, both outrageously stereotypical in their appearance. The first room is that of a teenage metal kid; Metallica posters on the wall, bong water on the carpet and pizza boxes on amps. The second room is a miasma of peroxide, mirrors and hairbrushes; the garishly pink habitat of your average all American Prom Queen. The wall dividing the two rooms collapses and what remains is a singular room of polar opposites, stark contrasts and attitudes so bold and different that they simply shouldn’t occupy communal space. This is the imaginary theatre that Sleigh Bells largely plays out in, forcing together social cliques that in normal everyday life, simply don’t mix.
Sonically, it’s a mixture of pummelling electronic beats, bubblegum pop hooks and hardcore style guitars. The opening title track for example is an early highlight and comes on like Portisheads ‘Machine Gun’ high fiving Iron Maiden who are being simultaneously blown by the Cheeky Girls. This boy girl duo rock a sinister blend, I like to imagine that all parties secretly know they shouldn’t be associating with one another but as a result of this defiance we are left with a sound that is refreshing, outrageously current and undeniably original.
The formula works well throughout, partly because it shouldn’t, but mainly because it is so confident in its approach, this is the kind of album you would avoid eye contact with if you passed it on the street. Each contrasting personality has its moment in the sun; Straight A’s is pure heads down thrash, while Rill Rill (another highlight) is possibly the most infectious pop song of the year so far. Destined to soundtrack a host of summers, Sleigh Bells is a triumph for any Cheerleader that has ever been curious about the dark side, and any outcast metal kid that has fantasised about hate-fucking Miss Perfect.
Falling in love with a song whilst in a state of semi conscious between sleeping and waking is a special occurrence and one that happens rarely. There are precious few artists who I can recall having this effect on me but they all seem to posses a certain dream like quality (Fennesz, Grouper). Somehow with Lunar Life, U.S Girls have managed to bottle that waking dream sensation and condense it in to just over five minutes of pure astounding beauty. A steady beat punctuates shifting pitches while haunting vocals seem to float above the noise, one of the songs of the year so far.
It has taken me a while to get acquainted with the new Delorean record but now that we have spent some time together we’re friends, we’ll never be as tight as Ayrton Senna though. The new Deftones kills, great songs, great riffs, great band. Cam’ron proves that violence and misogyny never sounded so good as it did it back in 2004.