The Designer's Drugs
Stimulus: How to Destroy Angels
For good and ill, the new project of Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor sounds a lot like his old project with a female singer. While there are far worse foundations to build from than the electronic wizardry of Nine Inch Nails, this collaboration between Reznor, his wife Mariqueen Maandig, and his longtime cohort Atticus Ross doesn’t appear to have grown a distinct identity yet. On the other hand, the self-titled EP from How to Destroy Angels is a rumbling and snarling piece of work which will hook longtime Reznor fans.
The main difference between the two musical entities hinges upon Maandig, who made her name as a co-vocalist for the cheerfully spacey electro-rock band West Indian Girl. While the difference in tones between that band and this one is severe and Maandig is stepping out from a chorus into a solo vocalist role, she makes the transition well, even if she remains a bit soft-spoken.
The six tracks which comprise this release are different shades of the same gloom, all having easy comparisons to tracks within the Nine Inch Nails catalogue. “The Space in Between” opens with a crawling soundtrack piece filled with buzzing low end string synths. “Parasite” builds up speed with the low end chugging into bursts of keyboards and explosions of distorted guitar. The best track on the EP is a menacing dance groove titled “Fur Lined,” in which Maandig lays on static-shredded pop vocals which run parallel to robotic drums and bass. Following this is “BBB,” a militant track that would have been at home on NIN’s Year Zero, and “The Believers,” which echoes earlier Nine Inch Nails tinged with jungle elements. The closing track, “A Drowning,” finishes everything off with the usual picturesque sense of sadness and despair.
The sum total is an excellent introduction which leaves many things unfinished. Reznor’s music tends to be at its most compelling when it gets outside of his usual comfort zone. By placing himself in a presumably more democratic group than he had been used to while existing as the entirety of Nine Inch Nails, How to Destroy Angels has acquired the potential to break past its current typecasting. If he lets go a little bit more, and if Maandig steps up just as much, it could become something drastically exciting.