One thing about Trent Reznor, he never seems to get complacent. Part of that is the artist inside of him won’t allow atrophy of his creative muscles very long. The strength of his need to keep growing forward and evolving, Reznor continues an over decade long hot-streak of new and varied output either as a solo artist, entrepreneur, film composer, visual artist, fashion designer, his other band projects such as How To Destroy Angels and of course with Nine Inch Nails.
He can’t help himself, he loves to tease his many fans. So just a few weeks ago when he claimed, that NIN album he promised for 2016-17 won’t be happening at all, what he really meant to say was “I have a new EP ready to drop on you guys that will blow you away and mess up your brains”. Not The Actual Events (Self-Released) adds another new stitch to the legacy of his creative tapestry.
It’s hard to believe for a second when listening to Not The Actual Events, this is some throw away music he barely had time to work on. One of the briefest non-single releases under the NIN banner, the album is in fact lovingly concepted and deep. The many swirling layers of sounds, the pulsing beats, murderbot-gone awry chirps and bleeps that would make Star Wars sound designers jealous. There are a lot of familiar things here that call to mind the rock paranoia of Year Zero (mainly the trademark guitar and bass), the epic writing of The Fragile but also a lot of spillage from his recent composing and film score work. Not a shock since frequent collaborator, writer, producer Atticus Ross is now a full member of NIN for this release. Ross in a lot of ways is the perfect weapon for Trent, since they compliment each other so perfectly. It feels like when they make music together in any guise, it is the fulfillment of the Tapeworm project that never got off the ground.
Starting off with ‘Branches/Bones’, the track is classic modern era NIN. Short and to the point, but fully realized too, there is no fat on this tune. It’s over before you know it and therefore takes a listen r two to get it, but it’s no less hard-hitting. ‘Dear World’ is a little more fleshed out with weird synths and a slick industrial feel to it. Here we have a fresh take on the style many aped from the band in the 1990s, post The Downward Spiral (Interscope). After the rave up of the first track, it’s a nice contrast to have the gradual build dramatically. With incredible vocal layering and stop/start rhythms, this is a sign post to the rest of the EP. The bookend spoken line “Yes, everyone seems to be asleep.”, has a lot of political heft to it after the year we’ve had, and there is no way to mistake the tenor of this album is beyond the usual level of disaffection we know.
‘She’s Gone Away’ is the best and longest track on here. Right off the bat you will notice an homage to recently passed away on Leonard Cohen in the vocals. Trent doesn’t often go to his bass voice as a tool, so it’s not an accident that he went in this direction in the first intro/chorus. This center track is also the centerpiece of the EP and definitely makes the whole thing cohesive. Atmospheric and haunting; I kind of want this to be part of the soundtrack to the new Bladerunner sequel. The Ross influence is huge on this track too. This song is incredible, likely to be on repeat forever in my playlist.
Next up ‘The Idea Of You’ has a fast paced industrial tempo and buzzing riffs underscored with dramatic piano, and makes this another killer tune. Trent doesn’t reference himself or his own work too often, springing from his deep love of his hero David Bowie’s chameleonic style. But he definitely reaches back in time to the frantic mania of his early career to make a bashing anthem.
It turns out the much replayed over the last week ‘Burning Bright (Field On Fire)’ is atypical of the other tracks here. It definitely served as a good warm up to the new music with its slowed down marching tempo and weird delivery. With a tons of reverb/megaphone action on the vocals, you will feel unsettled and anxious hearing this track. When he alternates on the verses between sounding like he is leading an angry mob in protest juxtaposed with the line “Break through the surface and breathe”, Trent has a message for those burned out by 2016, and we all need to hear it.
As Reznor and Ross alluded to on their recent interview on BBC1, this might be just the beginning salvo in a new, fierce era of NIN music from these well matched creative bedfellows. Let’s hope so.