Industrial Strength

With his latest release as Tweaker, Chris Vrenna may finally outrun his Nine Inch Nails past

The album marches on through the foreboding woods of "Cauterized" and into the sweeping, weather-beaten piano ballad "Worse Than Yesterday." Robert Smith's contribution, "Truth Is," in which the singer chides a lover over some deceptive pillow talk, is an itchy, lascivious drawl of a song, its warbling synth lines dripping over a drunken waltz of beats like so many Dali clocks.

Says Vrenna, "Some people say, about the Robert Smith track, 'It doesn't really feel like a Cure song.' And it's like, 'Yeah, that's why Robert picked it. He wants to have fun.' I think that's why we've been so lucky with a lot of people who worked on the record: They get to step outside of what they do and do something different."

On "It's Still Happening," Hamilton Leithauser takes a break from his role as frontman for New York's chic, retro-rocking Walkmen to belt out lines such as, "I guess I'm staying here tonight/ So shut the door, turn off the light," amid throbbing, thrashing beats that echo the singer's sleepless dread. The aptly named closing track, "Crude Sunlight," ends the show on a melancholy note, with Jennifer Charles languidly whispering over a cello, whose slow vibration mimics the rising sun.

All told, it's a stunning song cycle, and longtime fans of both Vrenna and NIN will be pleased. But the real achievement here is less that Vrenna has created a great industrial album than that he's created one that transcends its influences. The tunes, while haunting and drenched in industrial's signature feedback and synths, are also full of deceptively memorable melodies that sneak up out of the distorted guitars and chaotic drumbeats. It's these camouflaged hooks that should draw a wider audience to Tweaker's music, much the same way that barbed-but-catchy songs like "Head Like a Hole" and "Hurt" made NIN's Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral, respectively, the mainstream crossover successes they were.

Indeed, it's for those less familiar with Vrenna, NIN, and industrial music in general that the album holds a special treat, best expressed in the words of Brian Burton, aka hip hop producer Danger Mouse. While Burton and I freely admitted to knowing next to nothing about Vrenna's background or influences, we found ourselves singing Tweaker's praises to one another backstage at a recent Danger Mouse show, much to our shared surprise. Later, I called Burton to ask him to explain this appeal: "It's like a movie you haven't seen a trailer for. You just put it on and it's like, 'Holy fuck!' It turns left, right, up, down -- you don't expect anything. That's why I was so open to this. I didn't know anything about it, really. I knew he used to be in Nine Inch Nails. That's all I knew. I didn't know what kind of following he had, what he was like, any of that stuff. I just put it on and it was like, 'Yeah.'"

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