Nine Inch Nails fronted by a hot femme singer? Why didn't anyone think of it sooner? That's exaggerating the MO of this electro-pop collective (Trent Reznor, his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, NIN cronies Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan), but not entirely. Clocking in at 30-plus minutes, this debut EP is a small masterpiece of downtempo sound sculpture, finely detailed and often as gorgeous as it is discomforting. "I feel the skin that separates us start to fade/And when I lie on top of you, I'm afraid," Maandig intones over a crushingly low frequency bass line on "Keep It Together," her ghost-babe vocals joining Reznor's butch croak near the end for a night-sweat duet.
Two years after the group's original EP, How to Destroy Angels delivered a second EP, An Omen EP, in November of 2012. Unlike the 2010 set, An Omen EP isn't quite a stand-alone release, as it's comprised of songs slated for their 2013 full-length debut, and it does indeed showcase a diverse band, one that certainly recalls NIN in places -- the opening "Keep It Together" has a bit of the icy industrialism of Pretty Hate Machine -- but this largely instrumental effort is spookier, richer than such a reductive statement suggests. "Ice Age" provides a prickly, seductive showcase for Mariqueen Maandig, who harmonizes effectively with Trent Reznor on the closing "Speaking in Tongues," but what's so appealing about An Omen EP is how it's at once out of reach and immediate.
When How to destroy angels_ released their first EP in 2010, it was not far removed from the soundscapes Trent Reznor had been painting for years with Nine Inch Nails. It was a little quieter, a little more electronic, but not too different otherwise. Reznor even said himself that the self-titled EP was just an initial experiment to see what this new group could make.
In 2012, Trent Reznor is most comparable to Beck and Jack White: they're all well-established big-tent artists who split their time between musical and entrepreneurial endeavors. While Beck and White look backwards and, er, upwards for novel distribution models-- releasing new tunes as sheet music and launching a single via helium balloon-- Reznor, as always, looks toward the future. Last month he dropped a mysterious announcement about hooking up with Jimmy Iovine and Beats by Dre (itself the product of another 1990s musical genius-gone-boardroom) for some sort of collaboration that sounds like it will dominate more than a few news cycles for tech and industry wonks.
“I take the thought of you and burn it to the ground / Sometimes I’m waiting for this ice age to arrive / Sometimes the hate in me is keeping me alive,” serenades Mariqueen Maandig over the the bleak Skinny Puppy-meets-Sheryl Crow soundscapes of “Ice age”. It’s a statement quite similar to those professed since 1988 by How to destroy angels_’s frontman Nine Inch Nails’ founder Trent Reznor, who also happens to be Maandig’s husband. Aside from the track’s nearly buried industrial screeches, the music bears zero resemblance to the sonic-brutality Reznor first produced on Pretty Hate Machine — which hit shelves when Maandig was only eight years old.