Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- Hesitation Marks


Well, this is it. Hesitation Marks, the last Nine Inch Nails album Trent Reznor has released, at least as of 2016. I'll be honest and say that Hesitation Marks isn't my favorite Nine Inch Nails album, but I like it a lot. You can tell with those early (and awesome) Nine Inch Nails albums that Reznor was really experimenting like crazy, tossing a million things into the audio mix to achieve a full, chaotic, yet cohesive sound. The results were great, but few out of their 20's can keep up that kind of relentless experimentation.
The good things is, we have experience to make up for that. You learn enough techniques, and enough about yourself to get what you want just a little bit more easily. Reznor has spent the majority of the last decade, artistically that is, as a film composer. He's racked up an Oscar and a Golden Globe in that role (for The Social Network), as well as a Grammy (for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), as well as a load of other nominations for a load of other awards.
It's not difficult to notice Trent contributing what he's learned in film scoring while listening to Hesitation Marks. The atmospheric soundscapes sound more the product of meticulous planning than crazy experiments. At this point, it's safe to say that Reznor knows his stuff.
On an instrumental level, Hesitation Marks satisfies, finding new aural realms for Reznor to inhabit in his FOURTH decade in the music business. The electronic sounds are even more cinematic than usual, and the beats sound both retro (like 70's electronic retro) and new. The live instrumentation, as usual, blends in nicely with the electronic work. The more rash experimentation that is here, namely the major key upbeat dabbling in "Everything" is a bit jarring, and I am too biased toward Reznor's darker work to be objective about it. Whether you like it or not, it does bother the flow of the album just a bit, hindering it's cohesion. Then again, there's the lyrics...
"Everything" finds Reznor almost joyously contemplating the fact that he has survived to live a happy life with a beautiful (fellow musician) wife and two kids, when he suddenly ponders despondently:

But this thing that lives inside of me
Will surely rise and wake
And his seed that bleeds right through to me
As it comes to grab and take and take and take and take

He knows that the darkness is still there. Much of Hesitation Marks' lyrics appear to center around Reznor's reflections upon his past addictions, and how deeply he fears he will fall back into them. This makes for a consistent, moving lyrical experience, even if the music falters in consistency for a moment. Still, it's just a moment, and Reznor is musically on point for the rest. For me, the lyrical and musical peak is track nine, "Various Methods of Escape," as Trent chants in the surprise quiet of the bridge, "I think I could lose myself in here."

Well, that's about all I have to say about Nine Inch Nails.

2013 Columbia Records/The Null Corporation
1. The Eater of Dreams 0:52
2. Copy of a 5:23
3. Came Back Haunted 5:17
4. Find My Way 5:16
5. All Time Low 6:18
6. Disappointed 5:44
7. Everything 3:20
8. Satellite 5:03
9. Various Methods of Escape 5:01
10. Running 4:08
11. I Would for You 4:33
12. In Two 5:32
13. While I'm Still Here 4:03
14. Black Noise 1:29

Friday, May 27, 2016

I Just Wrote a Review For Super Mario 64

Over the past few months, I have felt inspired to change up my secret Nintendo 64 review website. I was writing in a very dry style, attempting to approximate the writing on a museum plaque, as I had titled the website "The Nintendo 64 Museum." However, I started getting worn out writing that way, and finally decided to just have fun writing the reviews in whatever way is most entertaining to me.
I figure that will make the website more fun for everybody else to read. I may even go back and rework some of the older reviews. Also, I invested in a video capture card so that I can get better pictures of the games for my reviews. Plus, I am not going to keep The Nintendo 64 Museum a secret anymore.
It exists!
Here's a link!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- The Slip

 photo 220px-The_slip_Nine_Inch_Nails_album_zpsjpzkp80f.jpg

Trent Reznor generously released The Slip for free on his website in June of 2008. The album feels like a return-to-form, a natural evolution of the rock band sound of 2005's With Teeth, instead of  the bloated garble of 2007's Year Zero. He even finds time for a piano ballad and an ambient track in the album's sparing run-time. Reznor also returns to his lyrical specialty, focusing on the fracturing stress in interpersonal relationships, as well as questions of consciousness. Unfortunately, though, that's all I have to say about The Slip.
Maybe it's because a more well-adjusted Reznor means less interesting music (FALSE, as the next review will show), or maybe The Slip's free-ness makes it feel more disposable.
Whatever the case, The Slip is a fun forty-four minutes that doesn't sound vital in the least.

2008 The Null Corporation
1. 999,999 1:25
2. 1,000,000 3:56
3. Letting You 3:49
4. Discipline 4:19
5. Echoplex 4:45
6. Head Down 4:55
7. Lights in the Sky 3:29
8. Corona Radiata 7:33
9. The Four of Us Are Dying 4:37
10. Demon Seed 4:59

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- Year Zero

 photo 220px-Yearzero_cover323_zpsgkoviqfx.jpg

I don't slag albums very often, especially not ones by artists I admire, but I am about to slag Nine Inch Nail's Year Zero.
You know how right now I can go to Target and use whatever restroom I choose, regardless of what's hanging or not hanging between my legs? The now nine-year old Year Zero posits that at this point in history (2016), the exact opposite will be true. Year Zero is a thematic departure for Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor, in that his lyrics are often explorations of his own emotions and mental state, and Year Zero's are not..
For Year Zero, Reznor attempted something different: a concept album about a hypothetical future where the Bush Administration transforms American into a morally repressive theocracy. This concept would have been amusing and dare I even say "palatable" in 2003--even in 2005, perhaps. By 2007, though, this concept is laughable and ridiculous. Reznor is so late to the Bush-bashing party, there's no cake left, and everyone who's still there is severely drunk, passed out, or tripping in the attic. By 2007, after Afghanistan, Iraq, Katrina, the subprime mortgage crisis, and The Great Recession, even W.'s mom was tired of the Bush's. The country was in about as much danger of becoming a Bush-led theocracy as it was of suddenly spontaneously combusting into pink fire composed entirely of cotton candy. On top of that, social issues progressed in America during the Bush Administration, just like the have every year since this nation was founded, regardless of who is sitting in the Oval Office.
Year Zero simply doesn't resonate. It sounded ridiculous in 2007, and it sounds even more ridiculous in 2016, when view of Bush's character has improved and his charitable work in Africa has become legendary, even if popular views on his war and economy records remain just as unpopular as they 2007.
I had more slagging to do, but I just don't have it in me. This album, like anything Reznor creates, has some interesting textures, atmosphere, and rhythms, but this is the worst thing the man has ever released for public consumption. It breaks no new ground musically, and nothing sticks. (DON'T!) Listen to the album's awful lead-single "Capital G," which sounded dated in 2007, and sounds even more musically out-of-touch now. Reznor claims that the "G" stands for "Greed" and not "George," but that's some serious back-pedaling when the song's opening line is "I pushed a button and elected him to office and he pushed a button and he dropped a bomb."
With that said, I am going to end this review right here, so that I can go listen to something I actually essentially every other piece of music Reznor has released in his justifiably storied career. Adverbs.

2007 Interscope
2. The Beginning of the End 2:47
3. Survivalism 4:23
4. The Good Soldier 3:23
5. Vessel 4:52
6. Me, I'm Not 4:51
7. Capital G 3:50
8. My Violent Heart 4:13
9. The Warning 3:38
10. God Given 3:50
11. Meet Your Master 4:08
12. The Greater Good 4:52
13. The Great Destroyer 3:17
14. Another Version of the Truth 4:09
15. In This Twilight 3:33
16. Zero-Sum 6:14

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- With Teeth

 photo 220px-Nine_Inch_Nails_With_Teeth_Standard_zpsxectddyv.jpg

Sometimes musical change is a bit tough to take. Trent Reznor went six years (1999-2005) without releasing a new Nine Inch Nails studio album. In that time period, after years of alcohol and drug addiction, Reznor became sober. He changed as a person, and his music changed, too. Nine Inch Nails 90's output almost sounds like a noise collage melted into songs--buzzing guitars and synths bashed into acoustic and found sounds, interspersed with ambient textures. Yet with all of those sounds, NIN sounded like a one man show. With Teeth sounds like it was recorded by a four-piece band...and it's only dark...not bleakest black!
Listening to these 13 songs, one can easily imagine Reznor on vocals and keyboards, next to a bassist, guitarist, and drummer--indeed Dave Grohl(!) pops up to provide live drums on nearly half With Teeth's tracks. "Live" might actually be the key word here, as these songs sound like they could be live performances. The more acoustic sounds and ambient textures have been dialed back to nearly nothing. "Bah," went my initial impression. "This doesn't sound special any more--it just sounds like humans playing music."
Time brings change, but it also flattens out previous changes until they no longer seem so insurmountable...or even that significant.
I can listen to With Teeth now, and appreciate these 13 songs for what they are, and not what I want them to be--turns out, they are actually quite good. With Teeth's music bounces between something close to funky (check out some of those drum and bass grooves!) and pummeling (check out Dave Grohl destroying some innocent drum kit on "You Know What You Are?"!) Almost every one of With Teeth's tracks is memorable and sounds like it could be a single (this is not meant to be derogatory, there's just a strong dedication to song-craft apparent in each song), and they all fit together nicely.
Reznor does a fine job of exploring his rehab and post-rehab emotions, as he feels mechanical, cold, and wonders if he even has an identity outside of his former life. There's a through-line here that Reznor is starting to doubt the existence of reality itself. He even posits that the entire world might exist in his or your head. In that vein, there's a great circulation of ideas between the opener "All the Love in the World," and the closer, "Right Where It Belongs." Reznor actually mentions the title of the latter in the former, as well as "hiding in a crowd," only to add the distorted noises of a crowd cheering in "Right Where It Belongs," over the lyrics:

What if everything around you
Isn't quite as it seems
What if all the world you used to know
Is an elaborate dream?

This gives the album a (not to be redundant or over-obvious) dream-like quality.
 Also, and this is going to be difficult to explain, With Teeth strongly evokes 2005, the year it was created. I can't explain why, and perhaps the feeling is intangible (technically, all feelings are intangible), but Reznor's lyrics, and the way this music sounds reminds me of 11 years ago. Not that the music sounds dated--it doesn't--but it evokes that time...something in the air of the recording, which I think you can hear in other popular "rock" albums from that year, like Weezer's Make Believe, or the Gorillaz' Demon Days. Or maybe that's just my memory mucking things up...what's the difference between memory and reality, anyway?

2005 Nothing/Interscope
1. All the Love in the World 5:15
2. You Know What You Are? 3:42
3. The Collector 3:08
4. The Hand That Feeds 3:32
5. Love Is Not Enough 3:41
6. Every Day Is Exactly the Same 4:55
7. With Teeth 5:38
8. Only 4:23
9. Getting Smaller 3:35
10. Sunspots 4:03
11. The Line Begins to Blur 3:44
12. Beside You in Time 5:25
13. "Right Where It Belongs" 5:04

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Nine Inch Nails -- Still

 photo 220px-Aatchb_still_zpsu9mftcfm.jpg

Still is a personal favorite of mine. It was originally packaged with a live album from The Fragile Tour, but Nine Inch Nails, aka Trent Reznor, made the rather wise decision to sell it separately, as well. I can count the number of live albums I've purchased on one hand. Live isn't one of them, and Still went completely under my radar. Ironically, the below video came up as "recommended" on Youtube one day when I was listening to something else.

I was shocked to hear that this was Nine Inch Nails. I knew Trent played the piano, but had no idea he'd put out anything like this.
Still is a nine-song collection of re-worked previously released tracks, as well as newly released instrumentals. The piano or keyboard is the heart of each of these songs, outside of the guitar-based "And All That Could Have Been."
With that summation out of the way, Still's re-recorded songs may not feature the loud power of the originals, but they make up for that by sounding more vulnerable. That's not to say these re-recordings are all quiet...they can be quite intense at times. However, their more minimal arrangements--far more acoustic and organic than the originals--reveal something new in Reznor's voice. Obviously, he has conveyed pain and anger quite well in the past, but here there's regret and dare I say a wistfulness to his singing that wasn't apparent before. Maybe that's because his vocals are presented in such a raw, unpolished, and naked fashion.
For me, though, the standouts here are the instrumentals. The first two, "Adrift and at Peace," and "Gone Still" contain a floaty, airy feeling that's magnificently contemplative. My favorites, however, are the latter duo, album closers "The Persistence of Loss" and "Leaving Hope."
"The Persistence of Loss" begins with a low-octave piano line, and gradually adds in more instrumentation until the listener can feel the entire weight of the Earth's sorrow on their shoulders. That's hyperbole for some, but it's how I feel when I hear it--since I am an over-dramatic person, prone to depression, it's certainly not hyperbole for me. There's this low whistle Reznor introduces in the song's final minute that sounds like God calling to his creation through 600 miles of crushing ocean. By the way, I am currently listening to Still and writing this while in the midst of a crushing migraine (Editors Note. It lasted well through the night and into the next day).
"Leaving Hope," is full of subtle, crackling power, and gives me this resigned feeling, like I am walking into the face of death, and I know I could have maybe done things better, but I did indeed do them, and now it seems like everything is over, and that might be okay.
Sorry for all the abstract bullshit.

2002 Nothing
1. Something I Can Never Have 6:39
2. Adrift and at Peace 2:52
3. The Fragile 5:12
4. The Becoming 4:30
5. Gone, Still 2:36
6. The Day the World Went Away 5:17
7. And All That Could Have Been 6:14
8. The Persistence of Loss 4:03
9. Leaving Hope