April, 2004; BGM/IMusic
When you’ve had an eight year tenure with Nine Inch Nails, produced artists like Marilyn Manson, Cold and Xzibit and remixed a dozen other notable names like Nelly Furtado, Weezer, U2 and David Bowie you probably don’t need an introduction. Probably.
Tweaker is the moniker former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna, a man who has been digging his fingers into a plethora of work since his departure from Trent Reznor’s seminal angst rock “group." Among his latest works? Producing the theme song for id Software’s Doom 3 and his sophomore outing under his tweaker title, 2 a.m. Wakeup Call
In comparison to Attraction to All Things Uncertain
, the first tweaker release, the most striking difference is the slightly more organic feel to Wakeup Call
. Organic isn’t exactly a word that can be applied to the works of tweaker, which is alternately inspired by industrial music’s glowering throb and ambient electronica’s sleepy gaze. However, where Attraction employed clanking programmed beats and hazy synths, more than often Vrenna’s actual drums and other guest musicians bring a more human face to the sound of tweaker. Perhaps the main reason for this sudden shift is the presence of Clint Walsh, Vrenna’s new sideman on the project. A veteran guitarist for the likes of Jack Jill Off and the Dwarves, Walsh’s impression in the writing process has had an undeniable effect. Vrenna is no longer reliant on guest guitarists like King Buzzo and Wayne Kramer to fill in as on Attraction
Finding a suitable relative to tweaker’s sound is not difficult. One only needs to look back into Vrenna’s resume; easily apparent is the connection to his work on Nine Inch Nails releases. Writhing minor key dirges, industrial beats and somber melodies stroke much of his work, a style that can be appreciated by fans of Reznor’s work. As much of that sound, however, can be attributed to a Vrenna, member of the group who arguably had as much influence on the group’s work as the oft-overbearing front man. Tweaker manages to utilize many of those moody traits and vary them with oddly upbeat numbers of bubbling electronica, creating a unique set of noises all his own.
The most defining feature of tweaker releases are the guest vocalists. Attraction to All Things Uncertain
turned out to be a concept album based on the cover art, a painting of a nerdy looking character named Eliott. To expound the story, Vrenna recruited an interesting roster: the folky Will Oldham, former Japan singer David Sylvian as well as Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren. Vrenna one ups his previous effort this time around, bringing in his personal idol, Robert Smith as well as calling back Oldham and Sylvian. Rounding out the guests are Elysian Fields chanteuse Jennifer Charles, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen, Mellodrone and Nick Young. This year’s concept?
“It's a nighttime record about dreams, nightmares, and insomnia -- things that keep us up at night."
As a soundtrack for insomnia, Wakeup Call
fits like a glove. While not short of ethereal tracks, every other track is a strident blarefest that hits like a double dose of No Doz. Some tracks even have trouble deciding which way they want to go like Will Oldham’s “Ruby." Anybody familiar with Oldham’s work can appreciate his gentle lyricism and his lazy quavering vocals and it’s definitely interesting to here them here where he splits time with heavy metal riffage and quiet acoustic strumming. “Ruby" eloquently sums up the album’s mission statement: we’re here lull you into a false sense of safety so we can shoot you in the face.
This style absolutely eschews the direction of Attraction to All Things Uncertain
, also distinctly nocturnal but not quite as sleepless. Those drowsy tracks from Attraction do make appearances on Wakeup Call in the form of “2 a.m." and the brilliant “Crude Sunlight" featuring Jennifer Charles. Charles’ whispering, anorexic vocals are the perfect match for Vrenna’s production, which presents itself as a slow tempo beat and a eerie piano refrain. Walsh provides spacious guitars and competes for face time with lovely fretless bass playing. Undoubtedly a highlight of the album, “Crude Sunlight" also perfectly closes the album. I must admit that this was what I had hoped a majority of the album would have sounded like though the more raucous tracks make for a nice diversion. Hamilton Leithauser’s appearance on “It’s Still Happening" is definitely one example, his potent vocals coupled with a electronic whir-click-grind beat make for an interesting take.
As with a lot of music that falls in the realm of angst-swollen “goth," Wakeup Call some times makes me wonder if it’s taking itself far too seriously. “Movement of Fear" fits this thought to a tee. Wilting vocals saying “This world is your shadow" as well as chanting the mantra “This is the movement of fear" sound especially silly when accented with towering horn blares that break the silence now and again. Is he jerking us around? I don’t know. Luckily, “Movement of Fear" is one of the couple of exceptions, also one of the three tracks not featuring a guest. Other similar tracks tend to be these gothic soundscapes, but none offend as much as “Movement."
2 a.m. Wakeup Call
marks another well-earned notch on the belt for Chris Vrenna, whose success is probably much deserved. I mean, he spent eight fuck
ing years with Trent Reznor. Bet you couldn’t. Besides that, he’s a very talented artist who has a great sense of direction and a habit of choosing the perfect artists to complement his style. The admission might be worth it alone for the trio of Oldham, Charles and Leithauser and Cure and Smiths faithful will probably like to hear their champions in this setting, as both put in strong efforts. The album is not without fault, though, often times taking itself far too seriously, a problem tweaker’s first release never had. Overall, a pleasing release from an artist I look forward to hearing more from in the future.