HTDACover.jpgHOW TO DESTROY ANGELS: Welcome Oblivion
Columbia, 65 minutes
Rating: 3.5/5

This past week, Trent Reznor not only confirmed the revival of Nine Inch Nails, but also assured fans it was ready for a new chapter; some time and consideration had allowed him to “re-think the idea of what Nine Inch Nails could be.”

Oh, yeah — he also dropped Welcome Oblivion, the debut album from his How to Destroy Angels project with longtime collaborators Atticus Ross, Rob Sheridan and wife Mariqueen Maandig. His timing is particularly curious; suddenly Welcome Oblivion is no longer the work of a new group that might improve given the time needed to work out the kinks in their sound. Now it’s more or less what kept Reznor occupied while NIN was in the shop.

As a first album, Welcome Oblivion leaves a lot of as-yet-unfulfilled promises, mostly in its failure to finagle singer Maandig’s voice into a useful instrument. She vocalizes in breathy whispers, occasionally buried (“And the Sky Began to Scream”) or incomprehensible shouts (“Welcome Oblivion”) but too rarely does she full-on sing. When she really clicks with the band, when they get right into a groove, out pops a crossover hit candidate like “How Long?”

At best Welcome Oblivion feels too good to be a standalone record, something done in Nine Inch Nails’ off-season and never revisited. Buy it and provide the encouragement to keep the group active.

YouthLagoonCover.jpgYOUTH LAGOON: Wondrous Bughouse

Fat Possum, 51 minutes
Rating: 3/5

“Bughouse” is an antiquated term for an insane asylum. Slapping “wondrous” in front of it might seem like an insensitive affectation — even in the modern age, let alone when the word may have been used, psych hospitals are certainly not wondrous — but it fits just fine with the music Trevor Powers is making right now. Far removed from the insular bedroom recordings of his Youth Lagoon debut The Year of Hibernation, Wondrous Bughouse is a big, bold, at times even ecstatic celebration of losing one’s mind.

This was clear from its lead single “Dropla,” in which Powers begged fate to spare a loved one from inevitability; “You’ll never die, you’ll never die” he chanted until it seemed less like self-assurance and more like an unhealthy delusion.

Oddly, “Dropla” is among the album’s most sensible songs. At times, as its title suggests, Wondrous Bughouse forsakes honest human emotion for exaggerated cartoonish-ness. The carnivalesque “Attic Doctor” plunges Powers so deep into a pool of sound effects he’s even less comprehensible than he was in the lo-fi depths of Hibernation.

Powers is still capable of great songwriting — “Dropla” and “Sleep Paralysis”  are downright terrific — but given a bigger budget and more production power, he frequently loses himself in colourful noise. Real bughouses, I suspect, rarely suffered from such an overabundance of technology.

MollyDrakeLead.jpgMOLLY DRAKE: Molly Drake 

Squirrel Thing / Bryter Music, 38 minutes
Rating: 4.5/5

Around noon on November 25, 1974, Molly Drake found the body of her 26-year-old son Nick in his bed. He had died in the night from an overdose of sleep medication.

Until recent years, this final passage in the life story of one of popular music’s most astounding posthumous success stories was about all your average Nick Drake fan knew of his mother, born Mary Lloyd. But in the last few years, home recordings of her original songs have seen release, firstly with two tracks (“Poor Mum,” “Do You Ever Remember?”) appearing on Nick’s rarities comp Family Tree (2007), and now in a 19-track album.

Like her son, Molly may be cursed to be spoken of in terms of unfulfilled potential. From listening to her songs, it’s clear she could’ve easily earned a promising career were it not ostensibly put aside to raise a family. Coming in the early years of the post-war folk revival, her work is remarkably prescient. Seeds of prominent female singer-songwriters to come are planted all over this thing. You may hear the acerbic truisms of Malvina Reynolds in “Love Isn’t a Right” and “What Can a Song Do to You?” or the eerie naturalism of Vashti Bunyan in “How Wild the Wind Blows” or “Little Weaver Bird.” Like Bunyan and Sussex songwriter Shirley Collins, she had a way of crafting new songs that could’ve easily passed as time-tested standards.

Performed entirely on piano, Molly’s songs mimicked the pop music she would have certainly grown up listening to, with a more thoughtful, impressionistic lyrical style that would become standard in a few years’ time.

Of course, most of those artists who would popularize her chosen style wouldn’t have actually heard Molly Drake’s music and Lord only knows what her son took from them. But this collection is far greater than a folk music curio: it’s a beautiful collection from an artist who deserves to be recognized as more than a side character in the legend of her child.

SuunsCover.jpgSUUNS: Images du Futur

Secretly Canadian, 45 minutes
Rating: 2.5/5

Psychedelic rock has a symbiotic relationship with drug use, but pity anyone who lights up or pops a pill before listening to Suuns’ second album Images du Futur. The album is more than a mind-fuck — it’s physically distressing. The songs seem designed to keep the listener off-balance at every moment. The distinctive riff of “2020” somehow replicates the feeling of slowly falling forward. Over six minutes “Minor Work” seems to be building and spinning in place at the same time. It’s all aesthetically remarkable. Too bad, beyond that, the songs feel pretty hollow.

One obvious problem: Suuns have a frontman in Ben Shemie, but what they really need is a singer — someone who could emerge from these disorienting tracks and give them some emotional resonance. Shemie essentially just mumbles, often from behind gritted teeth, which only works when the music, as in “Powers of Ten,” is wound as tightly as his jaw. When Suuns go looser (“Holocene City,” “Music Won’t Save You”) his mush-mouthed delivery is at best unnecessary, at worst downright distracting.

Suuns are great musicians. They have a way of getting deep inside the listener’s head. Staying there, however, is something they haven’t quite mastered.

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