As a record from the gear-grinding, bloodletting, mud-sweat-and-tears, industrial void-enterer Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks is an almost scandalous about-face, powering down the Hate Machine and revving up the Man-Machine, boldly exploring “EBM” for a generation of headbangers still coming to terms with the throbbing gristle of “EDM.” As part of a cultural moment, it’s the third in a trilogy of bluntly minimal albums — following the Knife’s Shaking the Habitual and Kanye West’s Yeezus — that retrofit an icon’s chosen genre into a blocky, clinical, Piet Mondrian painting. Noise is rendered as tight, impenetrable polygons of sound; beats are clicked together like Duplo bricks in primary colors; 808s are heartbreak; and everyone seems to be jacking to the same circa-1988 Chicago house records.
All of which to say, this is the most important artistic statement from NIN leader Trent Reznor since the late ’90s, when SPIN dubbed him “the Most Vital Artist in Music Today.” Through coincidence or design (he’s a Kanye fan), Hesitation Marks surges with the energy of modern hip-hop — hey, the surge of modern everything. And unlike Radiohead, you can dance to it. This is acid. Reznor’s clean, crisp, basement-breaking beats are a daze of Phuture’s past. Chicago house is already seeing a revival on the gnashing edges of the noise scene. It’s already got the potential to be the Internet generation’s Ramones T-shirt: moody, abrasive, infectious, aggressively simple. Through his own twisted K-hole, #ARTPOP icon Reznor is once again one of the most vital artists working today, coming back haunted, breaking the habitual. Let’s get physical. — Spin