Trent Reznor might have given his rabid fanbase a scare after he closed the books on Nine Inch Nails — at least in the live sense — and got hitched last year, but wedded bliss hasn’t seemed to slow the industrial-rock pioneer down by any means.
In fact, it’s proven beneficial rather quickly. How to Destroy Angels, a project that was once a well-kept secret, has been overexposed in a matter of weeks. (I’ll gladly share some of the blame.) Comprising Reznor, his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, and his longtime studio sidekick Atticus Ross, How to Destroy Angels bears all the imprints of latter-day NIN. The twist here is that Reznor concedes the mic and gives his significant other time to shine.
While Maandig’s no stranger to the spotlight, having served as lead singer for L.A.-based psych-rock act West Indian Girl for five years, the mood has shifted dramatically from that band’s sunnier, pop-inflected tunes to Reznor and Ross’s serrated digital soundscapes. To her credit, though, Maandig, whose seductive, sinister delivery resembles that of Curve’s Toni Halliday, proves she’s capable of adapting on How to Destroy Angel’s six-track self-titled EP.
Her soft, breathy touch offsets the EP’s most stirring moments, including “The Space in Between,” a rather brief, brooding track that’s the sad-bastard cousin of Portishead’s “Machine Gun,” with its distant, militaristic percussion and distorted synth lines. When How to Destroy Angels stretches things out, though, as on the EP’s other highlight, the seven-minute closer “A Drowning,” the muted pitter-patter of beats and dark piano melody take a backseat to Maandig’s aching croons, resulting in Reznor’s best subdued material since NIN’s Still from 2000.
The easy comparisons to Nine Inch Nails, though, ultimately work against How to Destroy Angels, as most of the glitch-ridden material here is almost indistinguishable from With Teeth era-NIN and onwards. The hi-hat/kick drum cadence on “Fur Lined,” for example, is nearly identical to the one found on Teeth’s “Only.” While you can nitpick about the similarities between Reznor’s past and present projects or even go so far as to accuse the man of recycling material, you can also say that he’s in a transition phase and How to Destroy Angels is still discovering its chemistry.
But even if this EP is the byproduct of a band that’s working out the kinks, it’s still a promising glimpse into what to expect from How to Destroy Angels’ 2011 full-length. It’s also yet more proof of Reznor’s incomparable work ethic ever since he found sobriety, in 2001.