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CD of The Week

Week of 6/25/18

    Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch (Null Corporation)

    You've got to hand it to Trent Reznor: he's definitely managed to reach a point where his music is made on his terms. This is great for an artist from a content point of view, of course, but it also means that every new package can come with a sense of excitement and surprise. This has been the case for much of Reznor's work since Year Zero, where albums and EPs will come out when the now-Oscar-winning mainstreamer of industrial music pleases, and the fans are always salivating. This is no different for Bad Witch, the newest Nine Inch Nails release. After the hiatuses, the free downloads, and the many surprises, it seems safe to say that whatever Trent is putting out, it's exactly what he intends to.

    With this in mind, knowing the band's brainchild isn't beholden to anyone but himself, Bad Witch is a particularly odd album. It's odd in the lack of production of the garage-rock adjacent "Shit Mirror." It's odd in the supremely muddy intro to "Play the Goddamn Part" unfolding into saxophone skronk, like particularly unhinged experimental jazz. It's odd in how the sounds coming through on this album almost all feel organic, outside of the frantic drum beats and some of the creaking ambiance. It's not just the soundscapes which confuse, though. After starting off with his trademark shout, Reznor channels something between a lounge act and late-stage David Bowie on "God Break Down the Door" and "Over and Out," and trades wobbly spoken word for calm recitation throughout the space of "Ahead of Ourselves." Reznor has never been afraid of pushing boundaries before, but these tracks feel apart from those previous boundaries. This isn't Trent playing havoc with the niceties of modern music… it's more of a deconstruction of his own sound.

    Even more interesting is how much space is being filled sonically throughout the album. This is music for an empty warehouse, and even at its most straightforward, the mix feels swallowed in some enormous cavern, with instruments muffled in the distance. This is perhaps most clearly demonstrated in "I'm Not From This World," which is custom built for horror…the soundtrack to a dark, foreboding vastness. When the track drops midway through into an echoing blip, one cannot help but feel the tension of waiting for what's next. By this point, it's hard to argue that this isn't more of a mood piece than a proper album as we may have expected. The more one listens, however, and the more Bad Witch expresses itself as a 30-minute experience more than a collection of songs, the more the listener gets pulled into whatever it is that Reznor is attempting to express here. There's not much to satisfy fans seeking another "Closer," but this unsettling, brief collection suggests that Nine Inch Nails is going to continue to play by its own rules, and possibly even begin to evolve into a new form.
    Review by Alex Lupica

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