Nine Inch Nails really had something going in 1989 with the gut-wrenching, soul-sucking album, Pretty Hate Machine. Fast forward 12 years, and Trent Reznor is still hard at work, twisting his heavily programmed beats into intense, moody soundscapes. During the mid-’90s craze for harsher sounds, a couple of Reznor’s mates split off to form Filter, whose one-hit-wonder (“Hey Man, Nice Shot”) tag changed to two-hit phenom, thanks to a TRL friendly tune (the uncharacteristically sappy “Picture”) and spiffed-up image. Three years ago, Chris Vrenna, a NIN founding member, sound engineer, and live drummer, began a pet project based on a Joe Sorren painting entitled “Elliott’s Attraction to All Things Uncertain”. Recording under the name of Tweaker, Vrenna takes a break from working with some of the biggest names in the biz (including David Bowie, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Green Day, U2, and Nelly Furtado) to release an intriguing album which blends rock, alternative, and electronic influences into a dark, weighty pastiche of sound.
The whole of The Attraction to All Things Uncertain revolves around Sorren’s painting (featured as the album’s cover). Drawing emotion from the image, Vrenna introduces feelings of anxiety, tension, and uncertainty into most of his songs. The first, “Linoleum”, features David Sylvian, a mid-’80s pop sensation whose melancholic, dramatic voice floats uneasily over shuffling electronic noises before merging with a chorus of heavy guitars. “Take Me Alive” and “After All” are similarly unusual. Both songs feature Shudder to Think vocalist Craig Wedren, and both carry a distinctive note of trepidation and unease. “Take Me Alive” boasts an assertive backing beat and soaring, multi-layered vocals; the track is rife with emotion and develops several broad musical strands. “After All” is a touch less successful, as Wedren’s vocals tend towards heavy-handed theatrics. A bombastic chorus and militaristic drum stylings do little to improve the song.
Though the primarily vocal songs take some getting used to, Vrenna really shines on his more instrumental tracks. “Turned”, featuring DJ Swamp on the decks, is an interesting piece with processed, scrabbling percussion and pulsating organ chords, while “Come Play” is an unusual take on futuristic techno, complete with manipulated tempo and electronic noodling. The “Drive-by” intrigues with a combination of plaintive piano melodies, repetitive guitar plucking, ethereal synth work, and atmospheric echoes. “Empty Sheet of Paper” is also quite nice, using bass-heavy, plodding movement touched with drum ‘n’ bass and an intricate web of percussive snaps and shuffles.
Overall, The Attraction to All Things Uncertain is an admirable effort from one of rock’s busiest figures. Skipping easily from delicate brushes of sound to ruddy, often harsh, sonic landscapes, Vrenna brings the listener on a somber journey through the human psyche. Using a number of featured artists to great effect, Vrenna creates a diverse and engaging album sure to satisfy those with darker tastes in music. Not likely to fall into one-hit-wonder or even two-hit phenom territory, Vrenna will be one to watch in the future.