Albums Of The Week

As dark and intense as ever

Nine Inch Nails’ main man Trent Reznor continues to probe the bleakness around him.
Nine Inch Nails’ main man Trent Reznor continues to probe the bleakness around him.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Nine Inch Nails' surprise release is worthy of repeated listens and Run The Jewels' third album brims with energy and urgency

Hollywood success may change many people, but not Nine Inch Nails' main man Trent Reznor, the underground industrial rock trailblazer of the 1990s.

Now a Grammy- and Oscar-winning composer behind moody electronic soundscapes in acclaimed films such as The Social Network (2010) and Gone Girl (2014), he returns to the intense, abrasive fusion of electronic music and rock of Broken (1992) and The Fragile (1999) with the new work, Not The Actual Events, a surprise pre-Christmas release.

Atticus Ross, the collaborator behind many of Reznor's soundtrack works, is now an official member of Nine Inch Nails.

Together, they have come up with a brutal EP comprising a riveting, dense and foreboding mix of synths, guitars and raw, raging vocals.

  • INDUSTRIAL ROCK


    NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS

    Nine Inch Nails

    The Null Corporation

    4/5 stars

    HIP-HOP


    RUN THE JEWELS 3

    Run The Jewels

    Mass Appeal/ RED

    4/5 stars

The production, while harsh, is dynamic, providing textures to be uncovered with repeated listens, most notably in the layers of distorted sounds found in the six-minute She's Gone Away.

The punk-inspired The Idea Of You, on the other hand, is short and snappy, with vocals that sound claustrophobic - the way Reznor's singing is edited, it seems like he did multiple takes and the lines were cut and pasted, sometimes overlapping one another.

"Dear world, I can hardly recognise you anymore/And yet I remain certain/There is an answer in you," he intones amid droning synths on Dear World.

Despite his Hollywood success - or maybe because he has encountered that world - he has never stopped probing the bleakness around him.

Coincidentally, the production on alternative hip-hop superduo Run The Jewels' third album mirrors Nine Inch Nails' synth-heavy dissonance.

Its melodies are also sinister, anchored by bouncy, bass-heavy rhythms.

"Say hello to the masters, on behalf of the classless masses," Killer Mike spits out boldly on Hey Kids (Bumaye), a swaggering track in which he and American hip-hop artist El-P lay out their plans for world domination.

The pair's energetic interplay makes the new album a winner.

The songs here feel urgent and spontaneous, much like a live show, whether they dip into Star Trek lore on the stylish futuristic number Oh Mama, or take on politics.

2100, a song in response to the recent United States presidential election, is steeped in melancholia, but they offer hope as a response against political uncertainty ("You defeat the devil when you hold onto hope/Cause kinfolk life is beautiful").

The gloomy soundscape aside, their passionate delivery is contagious and one can't help but be drawn in as one savours their beats and rhymes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2017, with the headline 'As dark and intense as ever'. Print Edition | Subscribe