November 11, 2012

Album Review: How to destroy angel_'s An omen EP

Trent Reznor successfully transcended his cult alt-rock iconery by filling an unknowing general public's cinema surround systems with two eerie Oscar-worthy scores for The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, with acclaim for both punctuating the many dimensions of the Nine Inch Nails mastermind's always-evolving career. Reznor now finds himself transitioning his creative efforts away from the silver screen glitz, focusing back on resurrecting both the NIN brand and finally giving his newest endeavor How to destroy angels_ -- featuring wife Mariqueen Maandig alongside fellow cinematic collaborators Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan -- its long overdue attention. The perplexing observation with the group's second EP, An omen, is that it's difficult to tell whether Reznor and company have completely removed themselves from the world of crafting cold theatrical electronic compositions best suited as background music or if this is telling of where Htdi_ is heading as they move closer to releasing their first full-length.

When How to destroy angels_ arrived back in 2010 with their self-titled debut EP, the aesthetic differences between their sound and that of latter day NIN wasn't incredibly vast, but from a Reznor fanboy perspective, that wasn't a total deal breaker either. Mariqueen's vapory vocals and the slow static burn which permeated into listens like "The Space In Between" added a subtly different texture to Reznor's signature blacklit aura of paranoid industrial-electronica. An omen does away with much of this for whatever reason, stylistically sharing very little in common with its predecessor EP. Aside from its first half, including the crawling opener "Keep it together," "Iceage," a dripping electro-acoustic track that highlights Mariqueen's soft coos, and "On the wing," an effervescently flowing piano-based listen that recalls Thom Yorke's Atoms for Peace project, the latter half of An omen_ buries the alt-rock power couples' vocals below the surface of sounds seeking familiar refuge in Reznor's film scores or even NIN's 2008 overcrowded ambient electronic experiment Ghosts I - IV ("The sleep of reasons produces monsters," "The loop closes," "Speaking in tongues.") Making all of it entirely cumbersome on the senses is that Reznor and Ross' knack for tweaking computerized instrumentation into polished compositions at times clutter into glitchy effects and underwhelming blips that sound of-the-moment at best rather than ultramodern.

It just so happens that on the same day How to destroy angel_'s An omen EP is released, Trent Reznor's theme song for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II drops as well. The aggressive track complete with sizzling guitars and throbbing bass lines is far more physical than his recent silver screen work, and despite that it's made for the commercial gaming masses, the return to rock-infused cohesion from the Nine Inch Nails innovator is welcomed. Listeners aren't give that same convenience here on An omen due to its clash of dense experimental soundscapes and varied moods that fail to connect with each other, or that of How to destroy angels_' past work for that matter. Ultimately, the EP raises more questions and a satisfying intrigue in some respect about the project's immediate future. Here's hoping Reznor and company are still figuring out the plot on this one...

How to destroy angels_' An omen EP will be released November 13, 2012 on Columbia Records.

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