Thursday, August 14, 2008

NIN/Deerhunter 8/13/08-Gwinnett Arena

Note:  Updated Info & Additional Links Written on 9/19/10.

It’s been two years since I last saw Nine Inch Nails for the very first time live after years of missed opportunities and such. The last time I saw them, they were touring with Bauhaus in their farewell tour along with TV on the Radio. It was a great show that featured one new band emerging into the consciousness of music fans while one legendary band gets a chance to show everyone how it’s done. At the same time, Trent Reznor and company reveal why NIN is one of the most beloved and acclaimed live bands around. It was one of the best nights of my life and now it’s time to experience them live once again.

This time around, a new line-up of sorts for NIN with Reznor, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini, and drummer Josh Freese returning from the last tour while adding former Beck bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen on bass, guitar, and keyboards. Another addition to the line-up who returns from his stint in Guns N’ Roses is Robin Finck from the era of The Downward Spiral and The Fragile live line-up. Considered by fans and Reznor himself as the strongest NIN live line-up to date, it’s also due to the experience and musical range of the band members as they play material ranging from early albums like Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral to more recent yet complex records as Year Zero, Ghosts I-IV, and The Slip.

Joining them in this portion of the tour is another band I’ve seen two years ago who have now become favorites of my own and the best part is that they’re one of the few local bands that are really good is Deerhunter. Deerhunter is also sporting a different line-up sorts with singer Bradford Cox, guitarist Locket Pundt, bassist Josh Fauver, drummer Moses Archuleta, and new guitarist Whitney Petty. This time around, the band is currently riding a wave of acclaim for their 2007 release Cryptograms along with the Fluorescent Grey EP as their upcoming release Microcastle is already out on the Internet.

At the Gwinnett Arena on 8/13/08, anticipation arrives as I arrived at the show around 3:45 PM after departing around 3PM from Smyrna to Duluth. I hung around for two hours checking out a nearby shopping center, chatting around with fellow NIN fans and such. After eating a chicken nuggets meal at a nearby Wendys at around five and chilling out. I returned to the NIN with the last tour t-shirt I bought two years ago at the last NIN show I went. At around 6:15-6:25, the doors opened as I arrived but I realized that the seat I bought wasn’t at floor level. It was the side of the stage. Closer than I’ve been to reach the band on the last tour but having the lights and seeing the visual stuff on the side is annoying. That’s the one negative I have about that show. (See pic 2)

Deerhunter played at around 7:40 with an eight-song set that included an intro and a song I don’t recognize. With the band dressed like normal while guitarist Whitney Petty wearing a cheerleader uniform. The band practically put on a noisy show with swirling lights and such while singer Bradford Cox wanted to thank the guy that flipped him off. The second song is Never Stand from Microcastle that came blistering through the set as the band blazed through. After a song from Cryptograms that I didn’t recognize nor could I figure which one, the rest of the set ended up faring fine.

First came Never Ever Happened that was played through such fury from the triple-guitar attack of Cox, Petty, and Locket Pundt along with the thundering rhythm section of bassist Josh Fauver and drummer Moses Archuleta. Strange Lights and Hazel St. were next in the performance as the crowd was starting to be won over as the last two tracks from the Fluorescent Grey EP in its title track and Dr. Glass where the finale had Bradford Cox standing on Whitney Petty’s shoulders. The show ended in chaos with waves of noise while Petty did handstands and high kicks (See pic 4).

The response from audience was fairly well-received as audiences thought they were good. After seeing them two years ago opening for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs back in October 2006, I felt they improved their live performance with proper mics, a better sound system, and everything sounding right. Plus, I saw a couple of Deerhunter CDs for Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey EP being sold for $15 while a vinyl version of Cryptograms was sold for $20. I ended up getting a set of Year Zero pins for $12. The t-shirts at $35 and me being short on cash was too-much.

Deerhunter’s set ended around 8:15 while around 8:30-8:40, I was in the bathroom washing my hands as I suddenly heard the noise of 999,999 intro as the house lights went out and everyone was cheering. The band suddenly arrived as it lead to the ferocious 1,000,000 with Robin Finck in a mohawk/dreadlocks kind of look that is full of power with Trent Reznor wearing a blue shirt. Yet, it’s Justin Meldal-Johnsen that stands out with his big fro and stage presence as he moves around while he, Finck, and Alessandro Cortini doing backing vocals. With lights flashing around for each song, the staging has three different backdrops. One in the way back, another that’s behind the band and one that’s in front of the stage and band. Yet, the one in the middle has most of the screen work. Then comes the fierce, industrial-charge of Letting You (see pic 5) that just gets everyone into a frenzy with strobe lights and such.

Next is the industrial-disco of Discipline that definitely got everyone dancing with lights moving along to the music which then leads to the fury of March Of The Pigs. With blinding, fast lights playing along and the energy at a high, it’s easily one of the best songs largely due to its energy. The grinding Head Down arrives with its album sleeve symbol in the background at the far screen in display as it’s led by Josh Freese’s thundering yet pounding downbeats and Finck’s grinding guitars with Cortini accompanying on guitar in his placement of keyboards, an Ondes Martenot, and other gadgets. Reznor also had a tambourine during the song’s coda that he later threw at the fans.

Then the lights dimmer for the intimate yet piano instrumental The Frail that serves as an intro for the song The Wretched. The slow yet haunting ballad is another highlight with its low lights and performances from Reznor in his vocals as well as the chemistry between Finck and Meldal-Johnsen, who also plays guitar as it’s clear that these two skilled musicians work well with each other. Then everything goes red in its lights and two backdrop screens for the song Closer that’s performed in the same style as it was in recent tours that includes an instrumental break of The Only Time. Yet, the only small difference is Robin Finck whose guitar playing clearly outshines the punk style of Aaron North as Finck acts like Godzilla compared to North. Next comes the frenetic Gave Up that is full of fast lights and lots of energy that included crowd surfing and such. Once the song ends. The front backdrop screen comes down thus ending the first set.

It’s around that time, background music that is essentially an instrumental played in the background which is Another Version Of The Truth. Behind the first screen backdrop, roadies and crew members take away the drum and keyboards set-ups for another instrumental set-up while another group of crew members put in another set of instruments in the front. With the band minus Josh Freese in front of the screen comes a mini-set devoted to Year Zero. First is The Warning that had Justin Meldal-Johnsen on guitar, Cortini on a mini-synthesizer or programmer (I couldn’t see what he was playing), Reznor on a mini-synthesizer, and Finck on a synthesizer or a lap-steel guitar. Yet, the backdrop that the band is playing amazing (which I can’t remember) as it leads to Vessel. Played by blurbs of red-like colors and huge splashes, it’s one of the best performances with Finck going nuts on his instrument.

The next set features all three screens on simultaneously with a forest-like backdrop for the Ghosts set. While often the one that most fans have difficult to figure which track is which. The first set is intimate with Reznor on the xylophone, Finck on an acoustic instrument, Meldal-Johnsen on bass, Cortini on keyboards, and Freese on an array of percussions. While 21 Ghosts III of the set definitely set the mood quite nicely with fans sitting down and mostly everyone chilling except for a few people. Then when 28 Ghosts IV appeared, everyone but Reznor is playing as he appears later on for this somber yet intimate track with rain dropping around. Yet, the screen backdrop in the second screen had an error of static that was later resolved. 19 Ghosts III becomes a highlight due to Josh Freese intense drumming on the array of percussions with Finck helping as it’s one of the intense moments.

The last track of the set is a stripped-down version of Piggy with Meldal-Johnsen on an upright standing bass and Finck on a mandolin until going to guitar as the screen starts to create shatter images. The fourth set segues with the crew setting things up as it remains still with The Greater Good being played in the background to blue images of cells bubbling with a body part in gray showing until a crew member erases the images on the screen with a flashlight. Then once the instruments and such got back, the screen rises up with the instrumental intro Pinion playing as it’s back to business with the industrial-metal of Wish. With flashing white lights playing to its intensity, it’s the NIN of old as it brought everyone back to a frenzy. Then came Terrible Lie that featured the three screens in red capturing the movement of each band member. It’s one of the best moments of the use of screen as it’s an old classic that every one loves.

Survivalism appears with the far screen backdrop displaying several TV-like images of Reznor singing on stage, fans going nuts while a woman is using the bathroom and all sorts of stuff. Yet, it’s intensity makes it one of the highlights. The screens go down again for The Big Comedown as Reznor, Finck, and Meldal-Johnsen are surrounded by dangling lights though in Meldal-Johnsen’s section, the lights don’t work. Yet, its images and everything create one of the memorable moments as a deep cut from The Fragile is played with such intensity. 31 Ghosts IV is then played to such intensity with the screens still down (I don’t remember the images shown in that one as well). Then comes the funk of Only with Reznor playing to the TV static images that’s in front and behind him on the screens. Then comes a big surprise with the classic single Down In It after the screens came back up with the intensity level at an all-time high. The final song of the set is the frenetic Head Like A Hole with all of the lights just being in display as everyone goes nuts.

The screen goes down displaying the famed NIN logo as fans wait around 10:30 as the screen in the front goes back up but the second screen in the middle is still down on stage as Josh Freese touches a bunch of squares to start the song Echoplex. The screens two screens go back up on the roof as Reptile (see pic 3) emerges which is a surprise as it plays to a green light display which leads to one of the show’s finest highlights. Reznor takes a break to thank the fans and everything while giving props to each member of the live band who are all individually cheered with great response, notably Robin Finck who is from Marietta. God Given starts to play as the front screen goes down half-way to display a pistol-like image mixed with a cross as its one of the memorable moments of the show (see pic 1). Next is the ballad Hurt that is played with such intimacy that even fans sing along lighting up their cell phones and lighters. The closer is In This Twilight with the far backdrop screen displaying an image of dystopia with Reznor singing in one of his best moments though not hitting the high notes.

Despite an amazing set list, presentation, and performance as with NIN, they always deliver. The experience however, wasn’t as enjoyable as the show I saw them two years ago. One was the fact that I was sitting in a section at the right side of the stage which was annoying despite the music. Another factor is something that is somewhat reflective of where NIN is at in the moment of their career. Despite an amazing production and the fact that Reznor can still play arenas and afford all of the things and people for this tour amidst the horrible economy. There has been a decline in the band’s fanbase which isn’t surprising since they’ve peaked in the mid-90s. Now, it’s just a bunch of loyal, diehard fans left yet there was only more than half of the arena capacity that showed up.

At the same time, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the more recognizable songs of the old days but response to the Ghosts material was mixed. In the section I was in, people seemed to enjoy it as it gave them a chance to sit down and just enjoy the music. Yet, responses I gathered at the Echoing the Sounds forum revealed that some were not into the set because they were more concerned about wanting to rock. I kind of thought that was insulting since there’s a bunch of people that want to hear the new material and get a chance to experience yet have it ruined by a few assholes. Still, the reaction afterwards was that everyone had a good time and it was great.

Then there’s the live band. Reznor wasn’t lying when he said that they were the strongest line-up he ever had and he was right. I feel like this is the best live line-up of the band that he’s ever had because of the musicianship and range each members can play. There’s nothing new to say about Josh Freese since he’s one of rock’s best drummers and as usual, he delivers. In the Ghosts set where he plays an array of percussions and other things. He truly delivers while doing a different style of drumming proving his versatility. Alessandro Cortini also delivers where he’s given more to do in not just doing all the keyboards but playing an array of instruments including a guitar, Ondes Martenot, and other electronics as he is definitely one of the best members around despite his lack of movement.

New bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen is clearly the best bass player the band has hired since he can move and pound those bass lines with such fury while also playing guitars and synthesizers for several performances including the Year Zero set. In the Ghosts set, Meldal-Johnsen plays an upright, standing bass in Piggy that shows his musicality. For a lot of the new material that’s clearly more complex and intricate, it’s clear that a guitarist with such range and is more prolific has to play this material. Yet, it’s clear that as far as guitarists are concerned, none of them can hold a candle to what Robin Finck can do as on a guitar, he’s a monster with such an amazing stage presence that it’s hard not to watch him. In the more album-oriented sets, Finck can definitely add an intensity to the Year Zero set while on Ghosts, that’s where he truly shines in doing the percussions and playing things like a banjo or a mandolin that shows how amazing he is as a musician.

Finally, there’s Trent Reznor who is definitely one of the best frontmen ever. Though I along with many other fans were worried about his voice due to the fact that two shows were cancelled in recent weeks. He managed to deliver 100% while at the same time, not taking any risks with his voice. Notably in In This Twilight where he sings a high note during the chorus but Reznor instead went for something else that ended up working for the song. Still, he managed to be engaging while being the same, angry man he was in previous tours as he just delivered.

Though my feelings for the show was mixed due to the experience. I had a great time though I wish I had better seats to see the band in a better view. Plus, I was glad some people got into Deerhunter while a lot of NIN fans acted very cool. Of course I’ll see NIN again but maybe next year or two and hopefully with better seats. While I don’t like to admit it but as far as experience is concerned. I think I liked them more when I saw them the first time around because I was watching them in the front with great seats and manage to see the visuals. Still, what set it part from that show two years ago wasn’t just a better line-up filled with great musicians but a set-list that was truly phenomenal and diverse. In the end, NIN and Deerhunter delivered in what is a truly great show and I recommend that audiences go catch NIN in their current incarnation for the Lights in the Sky Over North America Tour.

Deerhunter-5/5: Intro/?, Never Stand, ?, Never Ever Happened, Strange Lights, Hazel St., Fluorescent Grey, and Dr. Glass.


First Set: 999,999/1,000,000, Letting You, Discipline, March Of The Pigs, Head Down, The Frail/The Wretched, Closer (w/ The Only Time break), & Gave Up.

YZ/Ghosts Set: Another Version Of The Truth, The Warning, Vessel, 21 Ghosts III, 28 Ghosts IV, 19 Ghosts III, & Piggy.

Set 3: The Greater Good, Pinion/Wish, Terrible Lie, Survivalism, The Big Comedown, 31 Ghosts IV, Only, Down In It, & Head Like A Hole.

Encore: Echoplex, Reptile, God Given, Hurt, & In This Twilight.

NIN Reviews

Pretty Hate Machine/Broken Era (1989-1992):  (halo 1) - (halo 2) - (halo 3) - (halo 4) - (halo 5) - (halo 6)
The Downward Spiral Era (1994-1997):  (halo 7) - (halo 8) - (halo 8 DE) - (halo 9) - (halo 10) - (halo 11) - (halo 12)
The Fragile Era (1999-2002):  (halo 13) - (halo 14) - (halo 14 DE) - (halo 15) - (halo 16) - (halo 17 DE) - (halo 17 DVD)
With Teeth/Year Zero Era (2005-2007):  (halo 18) - (halo 19) - (halo 20) - (halo 21) - (halo 22) - (halo 23) - (halo 24) - (halo 25)
Ghosts I-IV/The Slip Era (2008): halo 26 - halo 27

Soundtracks/Miscellaneous:  (Broken Movie) - (The Crow OST) - (Natural Born Killers OST) - (Lost Highway OST) - (Nine Inch Nails:  Self-Destruct) - (Tomb Raider OST) - (The Limitless Potential) - (Strobe Light) - (Metal Machine Music:  Nine Inch Nails & the Industrial Uprise) - (Definitive NIN-The Heavy Tracks) - (How to Destroy Angels) - (The Social Network OST)

Promos:  (seed 1) - (seed 2) - (seed 3) - (seed 4) - (seed 5) - (seed 6)

Live Shows:  (NIN/Bauhaus/TV on the Radio-6/7/06 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater) - (Jane's Addiction/NIN/Street Sweeper Social Club-5/10/09 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater)

Bootlegs: (Purest Feeling) - (When the Whip Comes Down) - (Live Hate w/ David Bowie) - (Quake OST) - (The CRC Sessions) - (Where Darkness Doubles, Where Light Pours In) - (Bridge School Concerts)

NIN20:  (Part 1) - (Part 2) - (Part 3) - (Part 4) - (Part 5)

Deerhunter Reviews: Cryptograms - Fluorescent Grey EP - Microcastle - (Weird Era Cont.) - Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP - Halcyon Digest - (Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Deerhunter/Imaad Wasif-10/14/06 Atlanta, GA Tabernacle) - Deerhunter-10/1/10 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse

(C) thevoid99 2010

Saturday, May 10, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Nine Inch Nails-The Slip

In early 2008, things have gotten crazy in the world of Nine Inch Nails as its leader Trent Reznor in March of 2008 released a double instrumental album entitled Ghosts I-IV on the Internet. With prices ranging from $5 to $300 depending audio formats as well as deluxe versions of the album, the release was an immediate success with over 780,000 transactions made with $1.6 million in revenue. With fans salivating over the dark, ambient industrial album, Reznor’s newfound freedom away from major labels have prove to be fruitful as a revolution is emerging where major acts are leaving major labels to release their own music directly to the fans on the Internet. Yet, just as fans seem to get comfortable in Reznor’s new album, they were in for another shock as when in mid-April around the time Ghosts I-IV was released on retail. A message occurred in the band’s website with the words "two weeks".
The last time those words were uttered was in late February of 2008 and what came out was the release of Ghosts I-IV as when those words appeared again, fans wondered if Reznor is releasing more new material. In early April 2008, pictures emerged of Trent Reznor plus longtime collaborators Atticus Ross and Alan Moulder along with members of the NIN live band appeared. Rumors appeared that Reznor is releasing a new record and immediately since those messages occurred, a song was released to radio while another came out through a Facebook application. The big news on May 5, 2008 aka Cinco de Mayo at 12AM Pacific Time was unveiled. A new NIN album entitled The Slip has emerged and it’s for free from the band’s website at various audio formats.
Written by Trent Reznor, The Slip is an album that features a wide mix of seven songs and three instrumental tracks that stretches a wide variety of the musical style Reznor has done whether its rockers, pop-inspired tunes, art-rock, and instrumentals. The album also returns Reznor to his introspective lyrical territory filled with angst after leering away from that for Year Zero and Ghosts I-IV while also reaching outside of his niche. Produced by Reznor, Alan Moulder, and Atticus Ross, the album also includes performances from members of Reznor’s current live band including drummer Josh Freese, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini, and returning the line-up from the days of The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, guitarist Robin Finck. While not as consistent as classic albums like Pretty Hate Machine, Broken, The Downward Spiral, The Fragile, and Year Zero. The Slip is still a strong, powerful album from Trent Reznor and NIN that has something for everyone and most of all, the NIN fans.
The album opener is a one-minute, twenty-five second instrumental intro entitled 999,999 that features a wind-like background that shimmers as warbling bass appears along with a swirling yet hypnotic synthesizer line. The momentum of the track builds up with the bass becoming louder and more squealing as it segues into the first song 1,000,000. Armed with a hard-hitting drum track by Josh Freese and fuzz-rocking guitar tracks by Robin Finck, the song is NIN at their most aggressive as Reznor bites into his smooth croon yet growling vocal style as he gets into confrontational mode. With Alessandro Cortini belting out squealing electronics, the whole song goes into rocking mode with Finck and Reznor’s guitar and Reznor’s fearful yet numbing lyrics.
Letting You is a faster yet pulsating track with fast-charging beats and shimmering guitars with bass-fuzz electronics courtesy of Cortini. Then Reznor goes into his growling yet distorted lyrics that is reminiscent in the style of fellow industrial compatriots Ministry. With a catchy chorus of "We are letting you get away", the song explores Reznor’s political leanings as he delves into the failure of the world around him. With Finck’s accompanying guitar, it’s truly one of the most sinister tracks on the album. The first single is the wonderfully catchy Discipline with its thumping back beat, smooth bass groove, and snarling fuzz guitar, it’s definitely one of Reznor’s best singles. The song features great yet catchy lyrics the explores Reznor’s fragility and desperation yet with its sexy back beat by Josh Freese, it’s a song that has a lot of bite but also something that makes it okay to dance to.
Echoplex is a smooth yet complex song that harkens back to the artiness of Reznor with its sputtering drum machine and a warbling guitar track from Robin Finck as Reznor explores claustrophobia in this song with eerie description and a moody background by Cortini’s keyboards. The track is definitely another example of Reznor’s genius in setting a mood and lyrical imagery that is accessible yet abstract at the same time. Head Down opens with a smooth yet rollicking drum track by Freese and snarling guitar fuzzes by Robin Finck as Reznor growls through the song as he explores his theme of fear as it features a hypnotic yet shimmering chorus. With Finck and Reznor’s guitars still maintaining its snarl, it’s definitely a great song that shows Reznor’s complexity in his songwriting where he can be dangerous but also sincere.
The piano-ballad Lights In The Sky is a smooth yet haunting piano ballad that has Reznor singing softly with deep piano notes as he delves into death with a somber yet elegant tone. While the song is a break from more rocking tracks, it emphasizes Reznor’s knack for melody and being stripped down both musically and lyrically where all he needed is a piano and vocals. Corona Radiata is an eerie, seven-and-a-half minute instrumental that opens with eerie, shimmering background of bass-like synthesizer winds, ambient tones, and melodic keyboard chimes. The track emphasizes the melancholia of its previous track only to add something haunting and mystical. With soft beats coming in the background after about four minutes, a dissonant, washy guitar emerges in the fifth minute with more fuzzy and swirling synthesizers and guitars.
The Four Of Us Are Dying is another instrumental track clocking in at four-and-a-half minutes that opens with sputtering beats from a drum machine as well as hi-hat taps by Josh Freese. A bass appears from Reznor as he plays a wobbly bass line in layer of electronic backgrounds by Reznor and Alessandro Cortini start to accompany the beats and Robin Finck’s melodic guitar plucking. The smooth instrumental intensifies a bit with more layering of backgrounds including a siren-like guitar track by Finck. Freese’s beats gets a bit louder and Finck’s guitar becomes more wailing as does the intensity of the electronics. The album closer is the rollicking Demon Seed led by Freese’s hard-hitting, warbling beating drums and fuzzy bass electronics by Cortini as it leads into a smooth yet thumping track. With Finck’s dissonant guitar, Reznor begins to sing silently as he sings lyrics of fragility as if he’s aware he’s about to fall apart. The track intensifies with Cortini playing a soft piano melody in the background as Finck’s washy guitar gets more intense as does Reznor’s vocals. With its shimmering electronic background and metal-like guitar wails, and Reznor’s swirling vocals as he sings the final verse through distortions.
While the album has all the hallmarks of what makes a NIN album unique. What it lacks in comparison to previous albums, notably The Downward Spiral, The Fragile, Year Zero, and more recently, Ghosts I-IV is consistency. Largely because the first half of The Slip with the exception of its opening track is mostly songs at either an upbeat tempo or mid-tempo. Then once it reaches Light In The Sky and the two instrumental tracks that followed, it becomes a different record of sorts. It’s flaw is that it’s a bit uneven. While some might accuse of Reznor being derivative musically or lyrically, repetitive. Those accusations were definitely true by the time With Teeth came out in 2005 where fans admittedly complained about the album’s lack of innovation and edginess.
In The Slip, Reznor brings a new maturity to his usual lyrical theme of fragility while also taking a brief detour to the lyrical tone of Year Zero with the song Letting You. The album’s title might seem to refer to Reznor, who had been sober for nearly five years, admittedly expressing his fear of slipping from his sobriety. Whether it’s in the first or third person, the complexity and imagery Reznor sings about is definitely relevant to today’s world of celebrity drug abuse and such. Musically, Reznor still has a knack for creating unique melodies and hooks while also delving into art-rock mode. While it may not be innovative, the album is definitely a huge step-up from With Teeth where things tend to sound familiar. In The Slip, Reznor sticks with what works while taking a few risks where the result is an album that has something for everyone.
Production wise, Reznor along with Alan Moulder and Atticus Ross is superb as the layering of guitars, synthesizers, and other instruments definitely work. Especially from the contributions of Josh Freese, Alessandro Cortini, and Robin Finck that adds a band-like sound to the album. Usually, it’s Reznor by himself and sometimes, input from other musicians with the exception of the last album Ghosts I-IV. With Moulder and Ross providing a production that isn’t too polished but not too raw, the quality of the album itself is worth noting for bringing surprises on when a song might stop or a song fading. The album is also the shortest among its full-length release at forty-three minutes and forty-five seconds where at 10 tracks, it does leave the listening wanting for more.
The contributions of Freese, Cortini, and Finck definitely add some excitement to the songs where Freese is noted session musician while Cortini is becoming a key collaborator in the same way that former members Chris Vrenna, Danny Lohner, and Charlie Clouser were in creating songs as he was given several songwriting credits in Ghosts I-IV. Then there’s Robin Finck, a live guitarist from The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, who had been working for Guns N’ Roses for some time returns to the NIN fold. This time around, the guitar contributions he brings are definitely true to the NIN sound as he’s given more room to play what he feels like. It’s another example of Reznor’s newfound openness to have musicians play around him that makes The Slip a real highlight.
If the album itself is a great example of Reznor’s growth as an artist. It’s nothing compared to the way Reznor is promoting the album. Whereas he released Ghosts I-IV on the Internet through the band’s official website with a price range of $0 for the first volume and $5 minimum for the whole album in a variety of digital formats and up to $300 for 2500 limited edition copies of an ultra-deluxe version. For the release of The Slip, Reznor essentially gave away the album for free. In his words, Reznor said "thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years-this one’s on me". Under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license, Reznor is allowing fans to download the album for free and to share it with other fans and also remixing it for free with multitrack files released through the band’s remix subsite.
For its release, the album is released in various digital formats that included the album’s artwork with lyrics and artwork also in the song files: high-quality MP3s, encoded with LAME at V0, fully tagged in 87 mb; FLAC lossless audio at 259 mb; Apple lossless audio in 263 mb; and the high definition WAVE 24/96 (1.2 gb), better-than-CD-quality 24 bit 96 kHz audio. A physical version of the album is set for release sometime in July through the Null Corporation.
While The Slip isn’t the best album by Nine Inch Nails, it’s still an exciting release from Trent Reznor and company that once again proves his staying power. While the album is no doubt something NIN fans will enjoy, those outside of the NIN circle will enjoy its sense of variety as it ventures into esoteric art rock as well as catchy rockers. With many artists slaving away in trying to create the right product for the public and for their label executives. Trent Reznor has proven that freedom can guarantee satisfaction both artistically and commercially without the use of a major label and other corporate promotional tools. In the end, The Slip is an insatiable album from Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails.
NIN Reviews:

Halo 2-Pretty Hate Machine (1989):
Halo 5-Broken (1992):
Halo 8-The Downward Spiral (1994):
Halo 14-The Fragile (1999):
Halo 17-And All That Could Have Been/Still (2002):
Halo 19-With Teeth (2005):
Halo 24-Year Zero (2007):

Halo 26-Ghosts I-IV (2008):

Thursday, March 13, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Nine Inch Nails-Ghosts I-IV Review

In 2007, Nine Inch Nails and its leader Trent Reznor shocked fans by releasing a brand-new album entitled Year Zero, two years after his last release With Teeth. While Year Zero marked a departure from Reznor lyrically, musically, and breaking the five-year gap between releases. The album was widely praised by critics and fans while Reznor seemed rejuvenated both creatively and spiritually. Then as Reznor and NIN toured around the world, tension between Reznor and his label Interscope Records came ahead over album pricing, promotion, and such where in October 2007, Reznor left the label and became a free agent. Following his departure from Interscope where he and the British art-rock band Radiohead became leaders revolting against major record labels, Reznor released The Inevitable Rise & Liberation of NiggyTardust! for Saul Williams which he co-produced as it was released on the Internet.

During this time, Reznor along with longtime collaborator Atticus Ross began to work in the studio freely on their own accord and without any major record company pressure. Along with NIN live keyboardist Alessandro Cortini, Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione, King Crimson’s Adrian Belew, and longtime co-producer Alan Moulder. Reznor decided to create a record that marks another departure from NIN. At the same time, it’s a record that Reznor and company decided to release as part of a series of instrumental albums that will shape NIN. The project called Ghosts reveals Reznor reveling in his role as an experimentalist trying new styles of music ranging from ambient to his own industrial sound.

The first release entitled Ghosts I-IV is a collection of 36 untitled, instrumental tracks that has Trent Reznor and his associates performed and created in the studio. The album marks the first time that the entire album is not written solely by Reznor. Instead, a majority of the tracks are written by Reznor and Atticus Ross with additional credit going to Alessandro Cortini, Brian Viglione, and Adrian Belew. The album is described by Reznor as a soundtrack with the listener given imagination into what they’re hearing and seeing. While the album is really four EPs with nine tracks each, it’s an exploration of what Reznor and his associates are doing. Produced by Reznor, Ross, and Alan Moulder, Ghosts I-IV is a daring album that pushes NIN’s sound to new limits while straying away from conventionality.

Ghosts I

The first track appears as a piano-based ballad with Reznor playing melancholic notes to convey a mood that is harrowing for what is to come. Even as background vocals appear to present a haunting quality as it then segues into a sinister background of fuzzy noises that is reminiscent of Reznor’s industrial work. With siren-like backgrounds of electronic noises from Atticus Ross, Reznor accompanies it with a stark, piano strike that later become melodic in its notes. Beats arrive for the third track as Ross and Reznor create a layer of bass beats with fuzzy electronic backgrounds for a mix of rhythms. Then a staccato riff from Adrian Belew’s guitar appears along with Reznor playing a thumping bass line on the bass guitar. Even with an eerie melody reminiscent of Indian flute instruments, it intensifies with its bass and guitar. Belew then goes into a washy guitar track as it’s followed by droning, metal-like guitar from the track’s co-writer Alessandro Cortini. With beats being played by Reznor, Cortini accompanies the song with bass and guitar as Belew plays wailing riffs through its chugging presentation.

Drone from the previous track appear as it continues to surface in the background with slap-like beats playing along with loopy bass lines and Reznor’s smooth, piano accompaniment. The piano then becomes more stark with higher notes as Reznor continues to play. Then comes chiming accompaniments in the background behind a swooning background of keyboards similar to a string performance. With a fuzzy background behind along with a bass drone, the chimes continue to dominate the new track as it would then segue into a beat-heavy track with electronic scratches and shimmers.

Then comes some droning guitar work from Adrian Belew as hollow bass rhythms start to appear in the background. Live drums start to appear through a sinister drone of bass-heavy fuzz and electronics as wailing guitars with noises and such chug through the entire track as the musical presentation starts to get meaner. Things finally quiet down a bit through sputtering beats and Reznor playing a melancholic piano accompaniment. After for more than a minute-and-a-half, everything stops except an eerie, siren-like electronic background that appears briefly until the sputtering beats return.

Ghosts II

Opening with hammering, trash can-like beats, the fuzzy electronic background chugs throughout the entire track as Reznor accompanies it with a dark, piano performance. With Reznor now adding a melody, Adrian Belew returns with a droning guitar solo as it’s just piano, guitar, electronics, and beats playing throughout. Belew then brings in some droning guitar riffs that is followed by hollow yet sputtering beats and a swooning electronic background. With the beats and haunting background coming, it’s only Belew and co-writer Alessandro Cortini who creates more disturbance with their guitar drones. Things quiet down as Reznor starts to play a chilling yet melodic piano track that is played for a minute until Atticus Ross creates a template of shoegaze-inspired guitars and thumping, bass-driven electronic backgrounds with Reznor still providing the basic piano track. Reznor then changes the mood for heavier notes on the piano to create a melancholic mood with Ross using soft beats for the background along with a chilling synthesizer that builds up to help in its tone.

Drones from the previous track then segues into beats that pulsates throughout the track as Adrian Belew strums his guitar to accompany its fuzzy electronic background. Belew’s guitar work then gets more plucked as if it sounds out of tune while he plays on through Reznor and Ross’ electronic presentation before bass-heavy beats start to emerge. Even as Belew’s playing starts to wail until it stops for a hollowed sound of electronic sound collages with animal noises as it’s accompanied by hammering beats that scratch and pounds throughout the new track. Even as a chorus of screams and chants start to pop out, the main track still plays on until noisy, sputtering beats start to emerge with scratchy noises and shimmering synthesizer bass lines are played. With Adrian Belew returning, he adds some sinister guitar work that growls throughout this new track. Even as vocals pop up through the background.

Things start to quiet down for a momentum-building guitar track by co-writer Alessandro Cortini as he chugs through the track’s chime-like instrumental background as a vibraphone plays throughout the entire track. Then comes a synthesizer-driven track with pulsating notes and warbling, guitar drones in the background. Then the guitar starts to drone in much louder with dissonant notes followed by hollow bass beats in the background. With soft chimes starting to emerge, the guitars start to washy and then sound intentionally out of tune as everything starts to get chilling until it fades out.

Ghosts III

Layers of metallic percussions and beats arrive from performers and co-writer Brian Viglione and Alessandro Cortini appear as Viglione pounds throughout the track as Reznor and Ross bring in guitar drones that chugs throughout the track as noises of drum clangs appear along with scratchy backgrounds. Drones then start to appear through an electronic sequencer as Cortini’s chainsaw guitar starts to accompany the ominous, pulsating electronic background. With more fuzzy sounds and sinister guitar riffs, the three-minute, thirty-second track starts to fade out for a pulsating, up-tempo track of wobbly bass lines, fast guitar washes, and piano flourishes. Chiming electronic backgrounds start to appear with tribal-like beats in the background as a more traditional beat structure starts to follow along with Adrian Belew’s soft yet warbling guitars. The guitars get louder along with Reznor playing dark bass lines as they reach into elements of psychedelia.

An eerie, melancholic piano riff start to appear with soft, droning electronic backgrounds and a washy dulcimer performance from co-writer Alessandro Cortini. Co-writer Brian Viglione then starts to play a powerful drum track filled with beats on trash cans and other objects to help accompany the track’s eerie tone. Scratchy drones of electronic fuzzes then appear for a new track as chugging guitars start to arrive with noises of sirens and such also pop up. Even as more drones start to appear for this mean, snarling monster of a track. Thumping beats and shimmering synthesizer melodies start to appear along with scratchy backgrounds for this pulsating, industrial-like track that features kinetic rhythms and background vocals. Alessandro Cortini’s guitar start to accompany the track with such fury as the entire track intensifies.

Hollow wind chimes start to appear through warbling drones of electronic textures and guitars from co-writer Adrian Belew as Ross creates a background of slow tribal beats to help convey a mood of horror. Thumping bass lines start to appear with fuzzy drones and live drums playing for this quasi-industrial track along with snarling guitar riffs as things get more rhythmic as Reznor also pounds on the piano for the track’s slow yet intense presentation. Things slow down as a tambourine is heard in the background along with vibraphone taps as the snarling drones start to fade until co-writer Adrian Belew brings a new guitar presentation as he wails through the new track with his guitar. Armed with a sinister rhythm of hammering beats, sinister bass lines, and siren-like electronics as Belew’s guitar playing is all over the place to close down the third section of the album.

Ghosts IV

The fourth section begins with a hollow, thumping bass line that is followed by a ukelele performance by Reznor as it is followed by soft, pulsating bass beats. An ominous electronic background starts to appear as Reznor continues to play the ukelele with its eerie melody. Timpani drums start to appear as the track builds momentum in its slow tempo with Alessandro Cortini playing a snarling, guitar track to accompany the five-minute, twenty-two second track. A new track emerges with a more up-tempo presentation with flourishes of electronic beats and thumping synthesizer lines along with guitar strums. Chiming electronic beats start to come in from co-writer Cortini as he brings in fuzzy bass drones to the track. Hammering beats then emerge slowly with a soft chug of electronic flourishes as it’s then accompanied by a marimba performance by Adrian Belew. With warbling vocal distortions in the background, the track continues to play with Belew leading the way with marimba.

Belew then switches guitar for a new track as live drums start to play for a sinister, growling track with menacing synthesizer distortions as the track starts to gain momentum with intense drones of synthesizers and then a wailing guitar solo from Belew. Melodic, hollow synthesizer lines start to come in as breathing noises start to appear with a thumping beat in the background as Belew plays a washy, plucky guitar track. Reznor then arrives with a thumping bass line to accompany the synthesizers as he and Belew play with the main synthesizer track. Distorted beats and chiming electronic textures appear with scratches of electronic fuzz from co-writer Alessandro Cortini as Ross brings in thumping electronic beats to accompany Cortini’s scratchy electronic presentation.

A slow bass line then appears with strums and plucks from Reznor’s ukelele playing as it’s later followed by Reznor on the piano as he sets the mood for the entire track as a shimmering yet soft electronic background occurs with chimes until a heavier, bass-driven synthesizer occurs to give the entire track a more ominous feel that includes a snarling guitar in the background. With more guitar chimes and the synthesizers getting more intense in its ominous tone that includes hollow beats. New beats start to emerge with clap-like rhythms and echoes as scratchy textures of synthesizers also appear along with Adrian Belew’s snarling guitar popping up and then going into full accompaniment. The final track of the entire album is a piano ballad where the album has gone full-circle with Reznor playing a melancholic piano track as the mood of the entire album is channeled through his performance as wind-like backgrounds appear in the last fifteen seconds of the album.

Through its layered production by Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Alan Moulder, the album itself is unique in not just its sequencing but also in how one track would set one mood and another would go into another. The result is an album that is meant to serve as a mood soundtrack for daydreams and such. While some of the material might not be considered to be called ambient music. It’s really more of a record that channels the dark mind with elements of melancholia which is Reznor’s forte in his musical style. In some cases, it’s him doing what is considered to be dark ambient music. A style of ambient that is meant to be unsettling and moody. While Reznor isn’t trying to make the kind of record that will send bad images but rather to convey the troubling state of the world but without lyrics or any kind of message.

What is more startling about this album is that Reznor seems to try and push himself musically where along with Atticus Ross and their collaborators, create a record that can act like a jam session but without delving into any kinds of pretentiousness that often hinders albums with long instrumental breaks or even instrumental albums. Yet what is more baffling is that here is someone as known as Trent Reznor and his NIN outfit. An act known for bringing industrial music to the pop charts. Here, is a record that is the antithesis of not just Reznor’s more well-known, commercial albums like Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. It’s essentially the antithesis to practically every album or musical style that’s in the pop charts with the exception of a few bands and artists.

To compare this album to many of NIN’s other albums, it’s hard to compare and contrast. Albums like Pretty Hate Machine and With Teeth were albums that pop hooks and melodies while often venturing into extreme musical territory. The Broken EP was a record of nihilism that can be considered metal but more confrontational in its industrial-rock format. The Downward Spiral, The Fragile, and Year Zero were essential art-rock concept albums that featured instrumentals while delving into thematic subjects. The Internet-only EP Still was a stripped-down collection of NIN songs and instrumentals set to piano that conveys melancholia through its performance.
Ghosts I-IV is more likely to be akin to both Still and The Fragile but unlike these two records, it pushes itself to extremes as it reaches into the unexpected through its performance. Of all the NIN records, Ghosts I-IV is definitely a record that is hard to divulge to after the first listen. While some NIN records have to be appreciated in repeated listening, this record takes a little bit more time depending on what style of music the listener often listens to. It’s not a record that’s easy to listen to as it takes a lot of time to appreciate while getting into certain moods to enjoy. Of all the NIN albums and EPs, this one is definitely the most difficult to describe and divulge into.

What is more surprising is that given Trent Reznor’s recent emancipation from the recording industry after being from one bad label when he started out to being in another awful situation where he’s now working for a conglomerate that has no interest in music. He feels relieved in what he’s doing to himself as an artist. Without working for a record company, there’s no recording schedule, a release date, or any kind of idea to promote it or price the record. In some respects, Ghosts I-IV is the record that Trent Reznor has been wanting to make for years. What took him so long to make something like this is the fact that major record companies like Interscope will not release an album of instrumentals to the public without a single or any kind of major promotion.
Bottom line, instrumental albums, especially from someone like Trent Reznor or even someone that is well-known don’t sell. It’s because records like this have a limited audience unless that artist or group is very well-established and have a loyal fanbase that’s willing to go along with them. So no matter how many copies or albums a record like this sells, it’s not going to be viewed as a success to the industry. An industry that is now becoming irrelevant as they continue to put flash-in-the-pan, flavor-of-the-week records that will be here for 15 minutes and then, gone once it reaches the 15 minute mark.

Now it’s a definite no-brainer that Ghosts I-IV is a record that will appeal to NIN fans as well as fans of industrial music, dark ambient, and instrumentals. Mainstream audiences however, are not likely to enjoy this record and it’s understandable. It’s because a record like this will seem like a bore to listen to while others might not get the idea of an instrumental record. That’s not their fault because a pop audience wants to hear a three-minute single. Unfortunately, there’s no three-minute single or any kind of dance song in this record. It’s just an instrumental record filled with dark ambient textures, punishing industrial rockers, and pulsating electronic numbers. So in many respects, Ghosts I-IV is Trent Reznor’s most inaccessible record to date. Yet in the end, for anyone that wants to listen to mood music that is true to a listener’s state of mind or someone that wants to hear great instrumentals. Ghosts I-IV is the record to get.

NIN Reviews:

Halo 2-Pretty Hate Machine (1989):

Halo 5-Broken (1992):

Halo 8-The Downward Spiral (1994):

Halo 14-The Fragile (1999):

Halo 17-And All That Could Have Been/Still (2002):

Halo 19-With Teeth (2005):

Halo 24-Year Zero (2007):