Trent Reznor is one of the greats and this EP is indicative of his continuing work ethic and desire to keep doing new things. That and he came across as such a good guy on the Reddit Q and A he did. I tried to be objective (i.e. not compare it to NIN) but even with comparisons, this was a surprising EP.
The first track ‘Keep It Together’ does not buck this trend of Trent Reznor’s projects that have always been heavily atmospheric and intense. I like the drum track that is characterised by tactile, taught beats combined with glitchier sounds that jar and echo, falling right down into lower hz in places. The bass is big and distorted feeling especially fuzzy next to the very clinical beats. There are minimalistic guitar features that build tension and keep the claustrophobic intensity of the track consistent. The instrumental track is great, but the real feature is Mariquaan Maandig’s vocals. Maandig has an excellent voice for this kind of work; they are very controlled and ever so slightly textured. Reznor enters with a vocal part too on the main vocal hook ‘I can’t keep it together’ and this also brings in some layered vocals, mostly from Maandig. This is a really slick track but also so intense, so very intense.
‘Ice Age’ stays minimal opening with picked acoustic guitar combined with what could be a thumb piano, but this is Trent Reznor, so they are slightly automatic and digital at the edges and it makes a really cool timbre and melodic texture. Mariquaan Maandig can also expand her vocals a little more and there are subtle touches of – and shoot me down here – of bluegrass in some of the intervals she uses; whatever the influence they sound husky and really very beautiful. The final quarter of the track brings in some squealing strings, tiny digital sounds and blocky guitar feedback. These additions make for good textures and could have been used a little more but the track is fine without them, certainly.
‘On the Wing’ is distinctively electronic with a punchy kick beat and surrounding splashy drum hits and electric snare beats: it is a bigger sound overall. Over the top of this electronic strings and modulated analogue sounds come in over the top building up the song. The main beat feature returns though with Reznor’s distant, filtered vocals. I do not love the filters on here, but this is put to one side once Maandig enters again which redefines the track and its direction well. There is a nice section in the middle of just the background percussion; one thing I really like about this EP is that the band and vocals know when to breathe and give a little space to their parts; it just makes the whole thing feel organic and well written. When the vocals and other sounds return there is the addition of some dreamy piano notes that take this track in another direction, becoming hazy and relaxed.
‘The sleep of reasons produces monsters’ begins with bright key notes and draws in sounds more commonly found in ambient music. Maandig’s vocals enter, just singing though, no lyrics and around this the bright key tones multiply and increase in range and depth. Slowly a bassy kick drum enters and the music modulates from gentle to a little more sinister but gradually increasing in scale. Infact after a certain point you can hear heavy bass and then the track ends abruptly. It fits on the EP and Maandig’s part is good, but overall this is probably the weakest track on here.
‘The loop closes’ is so beautifully experimental with a diverse range of sounds including picked orchestral string instruments, piano notes, a range of resonant and solid drum sounds and electronic glitches. This was an unexpected change in direction for me on this EP, but really impressive. A grainy texture starts to back up the main percussive track and a kick drum comes in too regimenting the sounds into a detailed, rich groove that gets bigger and bigger. Half way through this stops abruptly and is replace by twisting electronics and Reznor’s voice (‘The beginning is the end..’) and some guitar notes and then the main hook reappears developing the textures even further becoming deep and colourful. There is another drop in here too, back to a more developed digital texture and low-floor kick.
‘Speaking in tongues’ continues the approach of diverse percussive patterns, this time bringing in some interesting wood wind sounds and tribal drum hits. Reznor and Maandig sing in unison for this track and it fits the darker, humid energy that this track has. Over the top of the percussion some noisy, straining electronic sounds (almost like a harmonium) rise and fall until the vocals return. The drum features are distilled slightly here and focus on the resonant tribal sounds, again the volume and scale of the sound increase in magnitude, stretching and screaming before dropping back to the opening section. There is a greater variety of wood wind patterns on here sounding discordant and sinister alongside the deep, dense vocals.
Overall, I enjoyed this EP a lot, it was captivating and kept changing and moving; there was nothing predicable going on here. This isn’t the kind of music you play in the background or put on with friends because it demands your attention, if you’re going to listen to this then you are really going to listen to every last note on here. Exciting, I’m looking forward to hearing more from ‘How to destroy angels_’.