Reviews: Nine Inch Nails & Ab-Soul

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Not the Actual Events by Nine Inch Nails

Better than 2013’s Hesitation Marks I think, mostly ‘cuz it’s shorter. Reports that this one is “unfriendly” and “fairly impenetrable” have been oversold, especially in comparison to the rest of their discography, and while I’m being cynical, I think it’s mostly just a teaser to get people hyped up for the big plans they have in store for 2017. But you’ll get a kick out of hearing the distorted screams in the choruses of “Branches/Bones” (each one cut off — and the song itself as a whole — to tease you for what’s to come), or how the grime clears away a little for Trent Reznor to deliver “Break through the surface and breathe” on “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)”. Elsewhere, the blip-bloops and motorik groove of “Dear World”, could’ve easily slotted in as one of the better tracks on Hesitation Marks, and then there’s the contrast between hearing the digital diary entries in the verses of “The Idea of You” with the exploding choruses (aided by Dave Grohl). But nothing here is truly great, and “She’s Gone Away” is a six-minute sinkhole with less ideas than any of the other (shorter) songs here. I don’t envy the position that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (credited for the first time as an official member) find themselves in: where every release won’t find much audience outside of their core audience — if that; where every release will be met with lukewarm reception at best — if that. But I think Reznor knows that: the choruses of “Branches/Bones” go “Feels like I’ve been here before / Yeah, I don’t know anymore / And I don’t care anymore.” B MINUS

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Do What Thou Wilt by Ab-Soul

Anyone clicking a review of Ab-Soul doesn’t need to reminded of how good Control System was: how Ab-Soul’s talent for wordplay and penchant for headier topics could sometimes — back in 2012 — outlap Kendrick, never-mind 2012-era Jay-Z. Likewise, no one needs to be reminded of how bad Ab-Soul can sometimes be, from questionable features (ie. Acid Rap, Piñata) to the abysmal These Days… which answered any questions of why Interscope didn’t pick him up alongside ScHoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar: Do What Thou Wilt confirms that These Days… wasn’t a misfire. Shame too: in addition to the usually infallible TDE in-house producers, Ab-Soul also grabs WondaGurl (Drake, Travi$ Scott), Skyhe Hutch (partly responsible for Jay Rock’s “Easy Bake”), Mike Will Made It (no recap necessary) and Tommy Black (responsible for the incredible “Book of Soul”). The highlights are all in the beats: Willie B’s teetering piano interval on “Huey Knew THEN”, the bass-line of “Beat the Case” (though the choruses are a write-off), how the broadcast sample is used on “Portishead in the Morning” (though the less said about “HER World”, the better), the lilting piano line of “D.R.U.G.S”. But over-top of these beats, Ab-Soul goes “You trying to fuck a model when I’m trying to deflower Queen Elizabeth” on “Threatening Nature” (never-mind the pathetic flag-fags rhyme) and “I’m finger-fuckin' Mother Earth / Put my thumb up in her butt, then roll like a was bowling” on “Womanogamy”. What results is like hearing a stoner acquaintance ramble on about absolutely nothing while a decent beat plays on the radio — the sort of acquaintance who self-identifies as the nonsense-neologism sapiosexual on his Tinder profile. I think it’s telling that Ab-Soul’s own annotation for the line “I hope I’m in Obama’s iPod” on Genius goes “I’m with all the hope and the progress; I’m for the cause”: no mention about the music, or how he needs to stack up against greats like Chance the Rapper to Billie Holiday to Charles Mingus to Miles Davis. Nope, Ab-Soul thinks it’s all in the message, whatever that is. C PLUS