Nine Inch Nails
Album: “Hesitation Marks” (Columbia)
Sun-kissed harmonies, funk-flecked guitar lines and — whisper it — a saxophone workout all make an appearance on “Hesitation Marks,” a surprising new offering from Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails after a lengthy, self-imposed hiatus.
In the five years since the industrial rockers’ last album, the 48-year old Reznor has won an Academy Award for his soundtrack work on “The Social Network,” married musician Mariqueen Maandig and become a father to two young boys. These developments are apparent in the makeup of “Hesitation Marks,” where chinks of light occasionally penetrate the darkness so prevalent on the band’s previous releases.
“Wish me well — I’ve become something else (just as well, really)” sings the front man on the surprisingly poppy track “Everything.” Elsewhere, the falsetto-vocals and staccato guitar line of “All Time Low,” and the brass stabs that punctuate the shuffling rhythm of “While I’m Still Here” suggest Reznor is leading his troops to markedly new terrain.
The band’s trademark brand of decaying electronica and discordant noise has not been ditched altogether, though. The opening four tracks play like a “best of” Nine Inch Nails. Lead-off single “Came Back Haunted” couples existential lyrics with aggressive synths and a searing guitar line. And spiritual ballad “Find My Way” echoes the group’s 1995 single “Hurt.”
The intriguing “Hesitation Marks” often resembles a ship trying to break free from its moorings. Once the final rope snaps, Reznor promises to deliver one hell of a trip — but, until then, longtime fans of Nine Inch Nails will be relieved to find that underneath the album’s occasionally bright, brash surface there’s still a heart of darkness beating strong and steady.
—Matthew Kemp, Associated Press
Album: “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You” (Anti-)
The title of Neko Case’s eighth solo album is unwieldy but apt: Many of these songs come from a place of anger, frustration, or depression - quite different from the love songs that were the core of her last album, 2009’s “Middle Cyclone.” The almost a cappella “Near Midnight, Honolulu” recounts an incident of uncalled-for verbal abuse of a child; the eerie, mysterious “Bracing for Sunday” involves incest and murder. On “Man,” Case uses her powerful, forthright voice to undermine gender expectations; it’s a combative power-pop gem that sounds closer to her work in the New Pornographers than anything she’s done before.
“The Worse Things Get” is wrenching and discomforting, but there’s love here, in “Calling Cards,” and there’s beauty, in “Night Still Comes,” in a cover of that other Nico’s “Afraid,” and in virtually every note that Case sings.
—Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer
Album: “Doris” (Columbia)
“Why are you so depressed and sad all the time?” Earl Sweatshirt is asked by his good friend Vince Staples near the start of “Doris,” the 19-year-old Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All rapper’s long-awaited debut album. “Don’t nobody care how you feel, we want raps.”
And there’s a part of Earl - real name Thebe Neruda Kgositsile - who wants to give the people the blood-and-guts narratives they want, too. But the most technically adept, naturally talented rapper of the incendiary Odd Future crew also wants to rap about his “daddy issues” concerning his father, the African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile. And to rhyme about the complexities of his relationships with follow OF luminaries Frank Ocean, who guests, and raps, on “Sunday,” and Tyler, the Creator. And to confess that he feels “too black for the white kids, and too white for the blacks / From honor roll to cracking locks off them bicycle racks.”
In other words, he’s a complicated, still-growing-up kid who, despite his claims that “I’m indecisive, I’m scatterbrained, and I’m frightened” has shown the artistic self-confidence to make a boldly introspective, musically challenging record. In doing so, he gives the hip-hop heads not what they want, but what they just might need.
—Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer