Back in the early ’10s, Trent Reznor appeared to be winding down Nine Inch Nails. After releasing 2008’s The Slip as a free download, Reznor announced the following year that he was retiring the band as a touring unit. And then he entered a fruitful period as a film composer with his long-time musical partner Atticus Ross, winning an Oscar for 2010’s The Social Network and scoring David Fincher’s subsequent movie, 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Any of Reznor’s old rock-star desires appeared to be satisfied with How To Destroy Angels, the goth-y alt-rock rock band he launched with Ross and his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, in 2009.
Contractual obligations eventually brought Reznor back to NIN — two songs he wrote for a greatest hits album, “Everything” and “Satellite,” hearkened back to the sinewy, aggressive synth-pop of Reznor’s first Nine Inch Nails album, 1989’s landmark Pretty Hate Machine. Instead of tacking these tunes at the end of a retrospective, however, they sparked a rebirth. The freedom of working on a laptop liberated Reznor’s muse, and inspired him to make the best NIN album since the ’90s, 2013’s Hesitation Marks. By this time, he had also un-retired as a live act. Nine Inch Nails was back and, incredibly, pretty much as good as ever.
At the end of 2016, Nine Inch Nails released Not The Actual Events, the first in a planned trilogy of EPs that might eventually be reconfigured into an album. In contrast with the lean, pop-oriented songwriting of Hesitation Marks, Reznor and Ross drew on the ambient dissonance of their film work for Not The Actual Events, cloaking even relatively straight-forward rock songs like “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea Of You” in layers of dark sonic subterfuge that obscured the hooks and amped up the cinematic menace. It’s no wonder that David Lynch was compelled to include “She’s Gone Away” in a recent episode of Twin Peaks: The Return — the songs on Not The Actual Events already sounded like a score to a horror movie that didn’t exist yet.