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SONOIO - Fine Music Album Reviews

On his third and final album as SONOIO, Alessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails combines the brooding intensity of Trent Reznor’s band with arena-rock melodies in the vein of U2 and Depeche Mode.

For Alessandro Cortini, naming a solo project SONOIO feels like a conspiratorial wink. “Sonoio” means “it’s me” in his native tongue, Italian, and SONOIO is where he grants free reign to his personality, synthesizing everything that has come before it in his musical career. The tireless Cortini is a veteran of industrial pop giants Nine Inch Nails and New Order-ish emotionalists Modwheelmood, while under his own name he makes opulent ambient records that worship at the altar of the Buchla synthesizer.

Elements of all of these projects appear on Fine, his third and final SONOIO record. But, as might be expected of someone who spends his nights strapped to the NIN touring machine, their influence dominates. The album combines the brooding intensity and coiled aggression of Trent Reznor’s band with grandstanding arena-rock melodies that owe more to U2’s “big music” and Depeche Mode’s stadium-sized angst than to Skinny Puppy’s deviant thrash. By and large, these are the kind of solidly written, satisfyingly thick pop songs that would have Albuquerque row ZZ singing along; it’s easy to imagine Reznor bellowing out “Thanks for Calling” or “Bad Habit” on his latest Enormo-Dome trek.

Cortini, however, possesses neither Reznor’s aggressive authority nor Bono’s buffed-up emotional sincerity. His voice more closely resembles that of Sparks’ Russell Mael or Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe, all quivering intensity and twitchy falsetto. When it works—as on the sunstroke ballad “What’s Before” and the electronic shoegaze track “Left”—this unlikely fusion of music and vocals creates a wonderfully dramatic hybrid that’s somewhat akin to the synth-pop foppery of John Maus’ recent album Screen Memories. At other times, though, the theatrical sheen undermines the songs’ emotional heft. A line like, “Thanks for calling/Thanks for letting me go,” from “Thanks For Calling,” might be a barbarous kiss-off when delivered by Trent Reznor. But Cortini sounds petulant, like a teen whining at parents who wouldn’t let him go to a party.

That the vocals sometimes grate is a shame, considering that the best moments on this album have the instrumental grace of Cortini’s eponymous synth work. “I Don’t Know (Coda)” rests on a subtly burbling TB-303 line—a surprisingly delicate use of an instrument too often employed for its shrieking impact—that trails off into a duet between machine and glockenspiel. “Bad Habit” has a nebulous synth sound that wobbles around like a tired toddler, in a throwback to the dreamy world of Sonno, a 2014 solo album that grew out of lullabies Cortini composed while on tour. This is Fine at its best, though even it could have done without the vocals.

“I Don’t Know (Coda)” provides a fitting end to SONOIO’s charming but underdeveloped run. Whereas NIN regularly leave stages slick with sweat and littered with broken keyboard parts, this agreeably noodling closer suggests that Cortini would return to sweep up any mess he’d made after the house lights came back on. SONOIO turns out to be the Nine Inch Nails you can take home to meet the parents: a pleasant diversion that may leave you craving more illicit excitement.

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