Posts Tagged ‘nine inch nails’

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News from the home front

August 11, 2008

Thought I’d explain why I haven’t been writing as much lately.

I’ve been working again, and that has been absorbing a lot of my time, but that doesn’t really last more than…well, at least five hours a day, at most eight, three days a week. Theres still a lot of downtime, but I’ve been either lazy or expressively content enough that I don’t feel the need to write quite as much. I wrote a short story about a month ago. That is a pretty rare thing for me. Maybe I’ll post that here eventually.

I went to Lollapalooza. I was thinking about writing on that, but it wouldn’t be plausible. I would have to write a book about it, so much happened. But at the very least I can say what bands I saw and a little bit about each.

  • Black Lips (Loud, fast, fun.)
  • Rogue Wave (Dull.)
  • Yeasayer (The band to beat for Friday. Only Radiohead beat them.)
  • The Black Keys (Loved em, I guess I should get into them. They are much like The White Stripes, which is my religion, so they’re my type of thing.)
  • Cat Power (Boring. We left after fifteen minutes.)
  • The Raconteurs (Pretty great. Played a long set and were enthusiastic.)
  • Radiohead (Best show I’ve ever been to. They put on a great show, but it mostly meant the world to me to finally see my favorite band live.)
  • Mason Jennings (Pretty boring. Nice little folk songs, but it wasn’t worth my sticking around for it to finish.)
  • The Foals (Pretty fun.)
  • DeVotchKa (The best band of Saturday. Very unique band with lots of heart, and fun live.)
  • Explosions In The Sky (Sounded exactly like the album. Very melodramatic.)
  • Does it Offend You, Yeah? DJ Set (Uh, entertaining enough.)
  • Lupe Fiasco (Not really into that kind of music, but he was fun.)
  • Rage Against The Machine (Played great, but the concert itself was miserable. People were getting hurt bad. I got gum in my hair. Fifty thousand person mosh pit. Not a lot of fun. I left halfway through to see…)
  • Wilco (Great, as always!)
  • Amadou And Mariam (Fun! Sounded great from the lawn.)
  • Black Kids (Horrible. worst “black” band there. Well, only bad “black” band there. I don’t think I was disappointed with any band more than these guys, but then again I didn’t know their stuff when I saw them. I just wanted to complete the “Black Trifecta” as I called it.)
  • Iron And Wine (Mellow. I liked it enough. I was a little bored by the end, but I want to get some albums now.)
  • Love And Rockets: Introduced by Perry Farrell! (Holy freakin balls. Amazing. The left field hit of the weekend. Played a blisteringly loud, fast, hard set. I love their music, and I look forward to getting into them. Great, great show.)
  • Nine Inch Nails (Awesome! their light show rivaled Radiohead’s, and they looked like they were having a lot of fun up there. Very enthusiastic. And a cool set.)

I do have some other things in the works. In particular, a big feature on my favorite EPs of all time. I made a top twenty list and I am progressively writing reviews for the ones I haven’t reviewed yet, and have been re-using old reviews or writing new ones for the ones that I had already written on. I’d expect myself to start posting those one by one soon. I’ve also got a couple other things tucked away that I have been working on in the long term, and I have gotten several new albums lately that I have been listening to. I finally bought the last of the Amon Tobin albums that I didn’t have and I plan on getting to know them better and possibly reviewing some of those.

I leave for college pretty soon. I don’t think that should effect what goes on here really. I’m going to be busy, but at the same time being in a new city where I don’t know anyone is probably going to leave me with a lot of desire to write things down, as I sometimes get. I would expect myself to actually write more once I get there, when I’m not studying, working, or doing whatever else I do.

Just thought I’d assure you that I’m still alive.

-A

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Nine Inch Nails – The Slip

June 3, 2008

The price of admission for a Nine Inch Nails album has hit all ends of the spectrum. From high prices for The Fragile and Still to a fascinating marketing campaign for Year Zero, to a choose your own price and format trick following in Radiohead’s footsteps (which Reznor subsequently trash talked), and now to the ultimate price, free.

Yes, that’s right, you no longer have to pay anything for a Nine Inch Nails album, but unfortunately, you probably wouldn’t have paid that much for it anyway. The sad truth is that The Slip sounds like a rehashed With Teeth, except worse in almost every respect. In fact, I’m sure we could line up tracks from either album back to back and anyone who had not heard either album before could not distinguish any stylistic differences. The music features pounding drums like With Teeth, tired riffs with the same tonal leaps and dull modulations, and lyrics that once again work against Trent Reznor’s for the most part excellent vocal talent.

Almost every song is disposable. The album starts out like it might actually be doing something worthwhile. A first impression might sense that Reznor has decided to keep each track moving at a fast pace, improving upon the With Teeth style flaw that was many slow, boring passages. However, both 1,000,000 and Letting You are fairly forgettable. Even the single, Discipline, has nothing new to offer. But nothing much anyone can say will ease the blow of the downright embarassing Echoplex.

The album is not without it’s successes. The victories come in through the hushed soundscapes of 999,999, Corona Radiata, and Lights In The Sky, which says something about Reznor’s knack for his recently taken up ambient style. But until Ghosts V-VIII, we have The Slip to listen to, and the ambient tracks will not save it.

Anyone except a Nine Inch Nails fan would want to skip this album, even at the free price. And fans will be disappointed too. The style that With Teeth established was never that great to begin with, but The Slip makes With Teeth look like The Downward Spiral. The fact of the matter is that Trent Reznor will never make any albums as good as Pretty Hate Machine, The Downward Spiral, or The Fragile ever again, and it is time to stop believing that he can.

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Nine Inch Nails – Still

July 19, 2007

When Trent Reznor released the live album And All That Could Have Been in 2002, some versions were packaged with an individual “Halo” (his personal moniker for an album) called “Still.” You can’t find it in stores. It’s too rare. You used to be able to find it for purchase on Nine Inch Nails’ website, but it’s sale was discontinued. And if you were to find it in a used record store, it’s rarity would nail it at a ridiculous price. To be sure, this is the exact wrong Nine Inch Nails album to be the rarest, not only because it is a wonderful commodity to fans but also because of the unique and important place it holds in Reznor’s discography. The catch of this record is that it is Nine Inch Nails in it’s most stripped down form, most of the time featuring nothing more than Reznor’s voice, a piano, soft synthesizers, a few non-intrusive beats, and on one occasion an acoustic guitar. To put it simply, this is as close to a Nine Inch Nails Unplugged as anyone will ever get.

Having gotten this on a whim simply because it sounded interesting, it was at first off putting, mostly because I am so used to hearing Reznor’s brutal beats and blistering synthesizers. Whatever scary things I thought I had heard from Nine Inch Nails before, nothing could have possibly prepared me for Still. This nine track simplistic reinvention of Reznor’s music is much more destructive than The Downward Spiral and a vital part of his career that NEEDED to be released. In comparison, And All That Could Have Been simply pales and seems unnecessary. It is more emotionally powerful than the equally brilliant The Downward Spiral, and it rivals The Fragile in scope. To truly understand the record, one must rewind three years back to the release of The Fragile, the most progressive album in Trent’s career where his sound was completely reinvented and a whole new landscape of music was wrought out of raw emotion and studio know-how. Stylistically, Still sounds very much like The Fragile mostly because a lot of the songs are from the Fragile sessions. And in fact, a lot of what The Fragile was about was, go figure, musical fragility and the part it plays in music that is aurally huge. These songs are mostly just piano and are the very spirit of fragility.

What is certain is that this acoustic album is the core, the keystone, the ultimate facet of Trent Reznor’s career. Whether or not it is the greatest is up for grabs. The Downward Spiral and The Fragile are both killer albums worthy of much praise, but they both have their individual issues that push listeners away. Still, on the other hand, is in many ways a quintessential recording, and probably the most accessible and easy to understand record he has ever made. And yet with as much honest and forthrightness as Still contains, it is still emotionally biting and as destructive as any other Halo.

The song selection is quite interesting and highly effective. The first song, Something I Can Never Have, features only piano and vocals and, while not a complete reinvention, is quite moving. The problem here is the lyrics, which cannot be changed from their cheesy originals, but are still nonetheless given fine vocal treatment from a generally fantastic vocalist despite his mediocrity in lyrics. It is a good song that was meant for this album. This is not the only vocal highlight, though. The song The Fragile is given a wonderful, somewhat chilled rendition as well. And The Day The World Went Away is given similar treatment. What made the original so striking was it’s layered sound, and yet the melody stands just as strong at it’s barest. And possibly the most striking, And All That Could Have Been is an unbelievable display of versatility moving in waves of subtle melody through more intense sections and one of Reznor’s most pained vocal performances. These songs are true winners.

One song that needs to be individually addressed is The Becoming. Upon the release of The Downward Spiral, the song was dismissed as being annoying and kitschy with it’s repeating backdrop of the sounds of people screaming in terror. And yet it was one of the best songs on the album. In any case, the song is extremely heavy and probably not meant for Still, an album that prides itself on albums of the exact opposite stature. Some might say it works, and others might say it doesn’t. There is something completely convincing about Reznor not refraining himself from screaming his lungs out and doing the original version justice even in this stripped down version. It is an important song and represents The Downward Spiral very well. It is usually by the time The Becoming rolls around that the listener realizes that The Downward Spiral is a themed album, about someone going completely insane and throwing everything away, one piece at a time. The lyrics “it won’t give up/it wants me dead/god damn this noise inside my head” is the final straw that collapses the camels back and makes the listener realize what is going on with haunting precision. In this way, it is essential, even though it’s sound and anger does not fit in with Still. It is a more instrumentally reserved version that is well appreciated.

Four of the songs on the album are instrumentals of unmeasurable power and emotion, and are easily the greatest assets of the album. Instrumentals have always been an interesting strength of Nine Inch Nails, some of the best being La Mer, A Warm Place, and Just Like You Imagined (which many may know as one of the various themes of the movie 300). However, all the instrumentals here almost make everything else seem like a waste of time. The albums second song, Adrift And At Peace, perfectly represents it’s title and features the signature Fragile piano sound. Then midway through the album, the interestingly named Gone Still is more haunting than anything that preceded it. But the true, haunting resolve comes in the last two instrumentals which make up the last ten minutes of the album. They are completely triumphant in marking Still as Nine Inch Nails’ most telling, moving album.

If you ever had any doubts about the integrity or talent of Trent Reznor, this is the place you should go. This is the core of his career, created at the height of his drug addiction, at a time which his emotion was brought to the forefront in his music. Regardless of whether or not you like the rest of his music, chances are Still will move you in some way. If you are a Nine Inch Nails fan who doesn’t have this, make it an immediate goal to acquire it. And if you are looking for a place to start and you know someone who has this, go for it. I can’t stress enough how moving this album is. It might be his most valuable, rewarding disk. Triumph feels great.

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Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

April 18, 2007

I wasn’t really expecting too much from this album. At all. It already didn’t have things going for it, considering there was only a two year gap between albums this time as opposed to the usual five or six, so one would have to assume that the product would be far less up to par than the other Nine Inch Nails that were so meticulously constructed over a long period of time. But really I think I could have thought the opposite too. With Teeth was good, and it’s best moments were very original, but it wasn’t quite up to par with the rest of Reznor’s discography and at times the motivation could have been calculated as a simple cash in after a really long musical break. I don’t know how long this took to make, but I can imagine it must have been under less stressed conditions and without many obligations. I do wonder if Reznor’s New Orleans mega studio was damaged during Katrina. Anyway, this has a lot of people talking. I wasn’t that excited about it when I heard four of the tracks had been released, two officially and two purposefully leaked by Reznor himself in flash drives carefully placed in bathrooms in venues on NIN’s current European tour. Trent is clearly outdoing himself on this album. Not only does he plan to release every song individually in garage band format to give fans a chance at remixing, but he has also has constructed an elaborate propaganda driven advertising scheme (see anotherversionofthetruth.com and then click and drag your mouse around the screen). The album is clearly themed, mostly around a fictional American future where the government and religion has complete organized control over the masses. Really, this doesn’t play into the music or lyrics too much, so no biggie. It sounds just pretentious enough to be annoying but it’s not. What is left to judge is the music itself, which in some ways was better than I was expecting but falters in some ways as well.

What I will say first is this is a much more interesting and progressive listen than With Teeth, which in some ways is good because it almost seemed like at times With Teeth was tired and burnt out as great as it was, and it borrowed a lot of it’s elements from it’s already sprawling predecessor The Fragile. Year Zero conversely is long, changes it up fast and often, and it establishes it’s own identity better. Reznor hasn’t changed his goals, but that’s good. He still tries to make very good industrial styled music driven by catchy synthesizers, adrenaline pumping beats, and sheer testosterone. What’s good about this is he’s still one of the few people in the business that can make industrial music without acting like a complete tool. The idea now is to be more electronic and less rock. What is convenient about this is Trent can do whatever the hell he wants on the electronic spectrum and still recreate his style with ease, this time without the grindy guitars and such. The beats are now much more toe tapping and the mood can change at a whim from the contemplative grooves reminiscent of The Fragile to electronic dance tracks almost rivaling closer. This is good. The versatility is appreciated.

The biggest problem I find with the music here is Reznor’s vocals. Not his voice though. Like Eddie Vedder, it seems that his voice hasn’t deteriorated at all within the last twenty years. And he is a very good vocalist for what he tries to do. His vocals here are simply mediocre at times. Instead of taking a more melodic approach like his earlier stuff, he now doesn’t seem to know what to do with his vocals and just kind of starts yelling a flat tone every once in a while. It doesn’t completely ruin everything, and it’s a flaw that isn’t too difficult to get over and look past, but it does leave a bitter taste in my, uh, ears. Me, I’m Not otherwise sounds like the most interesting computer glitch you’ve ever heard but is unfortunately kind of ruined by Reznor’s shot at hip hop styled vocals. A complete misfire. The vocals were actually the problem I had with the single Survivalism. This song is a grower, for sure. Reznor’s yells at first sound very ascending and aimless, but he is in fact hitting a note that wasn’t so apparent on the low quality early leaks. It’s a good song, but just not obviously. The album isn’t without it’s downright weak songs. They are mostly towards the last half of the album, and The Greater Good comes to mind as the worst.

But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the strengths are better than the weaknesses. There aren’t as many outstanding songs here as on previous albums, but most everything is at least good. After some consideration I’ve decided that Survivalism is worthy enough to represent the album, and My Violent Heart is the most catchy synthesizer line since Ruiner over ten years ago. This is an album worth cranking the volume on, but there are some recurring demons. Because the album progresses at such a quick pace, often times the best hooks that are worth hanging onto for the span of an entire song are left as interludes. Even the opening instrumental HYPERPOWER! is very good, as stupid as it sounds. And what Reznor has done is successfully removed himself from the introspective pain that he held onto for quite a few years with The Fragile and With Teeth. Once again, this is a very interesting album to listen to and hear develop, and it builds it’s own personality pretty damn well.

BUT. I’m not sure that it is better than With Teeth. Upon further listening things are opening up more and more to me, but in general this stands alongside With Teeth as being weaker than anything else in the discography. This is alright though, because it does have moments that justify it, and at times this can be downright compelling. And to be honest, Nine Inch Nails have never released a bad album. They do, however, have a hard time releasing an outstanding album. It’s still somewhat sleazy industrial music, and there really aren’t that many great songs, but like always the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. But this album shows promise, it’s inevitable sequel is apparently already being written, and it makes for a fun and surprisingly good angry electronic album. Some people despise it and call it another blemish on popular music and other people are hailing it as a modern alternative rock opera. To be honest, it’s not nearly that bad but at the same not nearly that standout. When you listen to this, just remember not to take the brilliant marketing campaign into too much consideration when you decided how much you like this. If you didn’t like Nine Inch Nails in the first place this won’t convert you, but if you liked the “bands” earlier stuff than this is well worth getting.

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Eleven Reviews

April 1, 2007

Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains [Tripod]
Tripod
For their final studio effort, Alice In Chains delivered a full album that they did not accompany with a tour. They did, however, perform on David Letterman, and watching that performance even today will send chills down even casual fan’s backs. Alice In Chains Unplugged may have tied the loose ends up and ended up being the final farewell, but this album is where you see the breakdown happening for Layne Staley. Not that the album is all melancholy or heavy metal. This is actually AiCs most diverse record, and it touches on everything from the most hardcore sludge they have ever produced (no less Sludge Factory, and Grind too) to more positive songs (Heaven Beside You, Shame In You). But you can definitely hear the dissolution of the band in this record, mostly because it bounces around so much. The beautiful classic Heaven Beside You segues into the insane nausea of Head Creeps without any provocation. Most all the songs are good except for a few in the last half that don’t quite cut it as AiC classics, but Heaven Beside You is still one of the bands best and Again is the heaviest thing since Them Bones. The real winner is Over Now. After what appears to be a curl-up-and-die maneuver with the interesting Frogs, there is silence, and then a muffled recorded trumpet resound, after which the confused positive/negative song kicks in and does significant emotional effect on the listener. The biggest problem with this album is the production, which falters very obviously. The idea to continue layering Layne’s vocals was a good idea, but the vocals are treated very poorly here and the sound is simply not heavy enough. Such an emotional record should not have been treated so preciously. A remaster, perhaps? It’s not perfect, but it is a respectable way to throw in the towel and contains some of Alice In Chains’ very best songs.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin [Box Set]
Tripod
This box set released in 1990 acts as an inflated greatest hits to the music of Led Zeppelin. Each disk both covers a specific time period as well as a musical aesthetic. The first disk is the dirty blues rock that made Led Zep famous, the second disk more folky acoustic stuff (my favorite), the third disk is the longer stuff mostly from the middle career, and the fourth disk is the best of the latter stuff that kind of needs to be included for posterity. Jimmy Paige himself chose the songs so the selection is solid, and every song is great. But the truth stands that this box set was probably unnecessary. There are some rarities rounded up, the bands two famous b-sides Traveling Riverside Blues and the Bob Dylan cover Hey Hey What Can I Do, as well as a brilliant live Jimmy Paige take of White Summer/Black Mountain Side. But beyond that, there isn’t too much incentive for fans. This collection is geared towards the fan who is a little more than casual but less than obsessive, a rare breed for Led Zeppelin. For that reason, people interested in the band could have done better with the two disk greatest hits, and people who want more could have gone with The Complete Studio Recordings box set, which also has the two aforementioned b-sides. The fourth disk may be useful for people who do not want to get too into the bands latter mediocre career, as it gathers the best of those albums pretty effectively. As a collection of songs this is easily an A+ purchase, but as a compilation it is just dumb. One is probably better off just getting The Complete Studio Recordings or starting the long fan trek of buying all the albums. Led Zeppelin was a fantastic band and this is a good portrait, but why stop at this when you could have the whole deal?

Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right to Children
Music Has The Right To Children
Surely Boards of Canada’s finest work, Music Has The Right to Children is at first downright confusing and off-putting but is ultimately a great ambient work. This is an album that has no clear purpose but in that sense reasserts itself within each song, creating everything ranging from small interludes to long beat oriented ambient techno. I remember walking home one day listening to this on my headphones. An Eagle In Your Mind was playing on the way there, the cool constantly changing beats keeping my mind interested and relaxed over the interesting synthesizer. Then the second I unlocked my door and walked into my dark apartment, The Color of the Fire started to play. The song is basically an airy drone underneath a childs voice horribly echoed and warped, complemented by bell-like instruments. I kind of freaked out. I didn’t know what the hell was going on and I felt like the sounds were real enough to be in the actual apartment. That is when the true purpose of this album opened up to me. Music Has The Right to Children is an album of electronic audio toys. Every song on the album has it’s own fun charms. There are some more straightforward pieces, especially the chill Turquoise Hexagon Sun comes to mind, and other times the album is more challenging, like with Sixtyten. Roygbiv is unspeakably fun or the short time it lasts, and Wildlife Analysis is a relaxing ambient opener. The whole album has a recurring mood of comfortable technology, and for that reason the album sticks together very well for how much it bounces around. It may have a few weaker songs, but the strong songs are enough to compensate and make the album a joy to listen to at any time, and a personal favorite as well. Rarely will you find an electronic/ambient album that is both passive and interesting, but Music Has The Right to Children makes the cut and is a completely unique, priceless album.

Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album
Richard D. James Album
The issue everyone seems to have with Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album is mostly due to confusion. Confusion that the record simply does not straighten out. James’ approach on this record is completely skewed, and while this is definitely a product of his usual fun and ultimately effective psyche, listeners will likely be put off by his odd taste. Simply put, this record isn’t sure if it wants to be happy or evil, and the result is a big mess. It’s a fun mess, and an interesting one too, but by no means is this for the casual electronica listener. The ingredients are usually simple ambient melodies that could have worked as songs on their own (or maybe with soft beats) inflated to ludicrous levels of energy by breakneck beats. A surprise lies at every turn of this album, and as a result, the listener is hardly ever spared their temporary sanity. The opening 4 is an Aphex masterwork, a touching gel of strings hammered by the fast beats to make an interesting and contemplative modern piece. But then conversely the next song, Cornish Acid, is fun in a horribly evil way, with practically the same beats overlaying a creepy synthesizer. These decided contradictions are placed by the minute. Sometimes the trick works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Goon Gumpas strangely enough has no beat, and it’s a charming melody, enough to make even the happiest listener suspicious of what tricks might be up Richard’s sleeves. Girl/Boy Song is fairly innocuous even under the asteroid field of a drum machine, and another highlight. Logon Rock Witch is just evil, with a playful organ/jack-in-the-box tune that drifts into a creepy haze. And of course, Milkman is a schizophrenic trick that needs no explanation. This album probably does what it sets out to do with flying colors. I simply don’t always enjoy the goal. The intent is to make good electronic music, and there is a myriad of good tracks here, specifically 4, Fingerbib, and Girl/Boy Song. But the intent is also to confuse with an obnoxious juxtaposition of clashing elements. This can be enjoyable, and there are people who enjoy beats like this, so this is no throwaway. But I probably would have enjoyed the album more had those beats not been there at all. This album is insanity, take it or leave it.

The Cranberries – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?
Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?
Irish rockers The Cranberries delivered their most acclaimed record as a debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We. There is a certain charm to this kind of music, and no question they presented their style very well for a debut. But there is simply something about this that is lacking. If anything, the wonderful tune Dreams is enough to justify the rest of the album repeating itself. And it does sort of linger on the same melancholy Gaelic themes a lot. When it does it with specific taste and hooks like with I Still Do, it’s alright. But one would think that if the band continued on in the same way they presented Dreams, the album would have been nothing short of phenomenal. But unfortunately, what The Cranberries do the most is not necessarily the most interesting. In any case, some songs here are just priceless, namely Linger and Dreams, but for anyone who wants good Irish rock, a very narrow genre, it definitely wouldn’t be a bad purchase.

The Cure – Standing on a Beach
Standing on a Beach
The Cure are the owners of a frighteningly large body of work and can therefore be a complete hassle to approach. Starting at any individual album can likely result in misconceptions or an unclear picture of what The Cure were really like because at every leg of their long career they have been a bit different. The later compilation Greatest Hits just doesn’t do the job, and there has not yet been a good collection that has covered the bands whole near three decade career. When Standing on a Beach was made, there was never any question whether another collection would have to be made because the band was already making their next album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, so this was never meant to be a complete picture but it is most likely the best place to start diving into The Cure’s imposing discography. The material here runs from the subdued punk of the bands debut Three Imaginary Boys all the way through the commercial sucess The Head on the Door, and the development is undeniably great and a wonder to listen to. Robert Smith’s voice is honed and the guitars are refined over the years that this spans. All the songs here are great, and it’s a wonder how a band so comtemplative and long winded can make such great pop gems. Accuracy is not any issue because this is a collection of singles, but the band definitely gave their best to the radio and never lost their grace in the process. The Cure are a great band and worthy of exploring, but it is tiring and troublesome to know where to start. This is not a complete picture, but there will most likely never be a completely accurate one, so for casual fans this along with the bands other singles collection Galore will be all one could ever need. And for those who want to dig deeper, this is a good branching point and signpost for where to go next. Either way, Standing on a Beach is a collection of great songs and further proof that The Cure are always fantastic.

Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
Pretty Hate Machine
At what it does, Nine Inch Nails’ debut Pretty Hate Machine is a killer record. But unfortunately it has some qualities that are hard to get used to or simply not for everyone. This isn’t considered one of the industrial genres best records for no reason. Most all the songs are irresistibly catchy while staying abrasive and heavy. For a first song, Head Like a Hole is still arguably Trent Reznor’s finest concoction of muscular guitars and hypnotic electronica, and the lyrics aren’t bad either. However, one of this albums many flaws are how hit or miss the lyrics are. Half the time, they are spot on and a joy to hear unfurl (lay my hands on Heaven and the sun and the moon and the stars / while the devil wants to fuck me in the back of his car), and at all other times they are cringeworthy at best (how could you turn us into this? / after you just taught me how to kiss…you). Another problem people will have with this album is the very ’80s production values, such as the echoed snares and the stylized synthesizers. But fortunately the core of the record is simply good enough to keep it’s quality apparent even after almost twenty years under it’s belt. Each song is individually crisened with great hook and develops with great guitars and catchy electronic beats and tunes. Not only are all the songs strong, but the record presents itself like a finely cut gem. None of these tunes are as bleak or pained as Reznor’s later songs, but they still have a significant bit of emotion. No question, this is a thematic album based on a relationship that is both painful but also seductively fun, but the lyrics just don’t quite cut it in the end. All the tracks are standout, from the devils hook Kinda I Want To to the sexual pulse of Down In It. The album has great things to share with the right listener, a lot like The Downward Spiral, but it’s problems catch up with it pretty readily. Although it may not be an indesputable masterpiece, it is still a great collection of songs, one of the first truly good industrial records, and a fantastic start to Trent Reznor’s great career.

Cocteau Twins – Garlands
Garlands
Garlands is no question Cocteau Twins most off the wall, odd creation. Being the bands debut one can only expect so much, but either way this is hardly an enjoyable listen. The intension here is clouded. This is kind of a stab at the gothic genre but without as much force as The Cure or similar artists. Garlands is of it’s own world, though. The beats are almost primeval, and the guitar and bass provides a quiet, reserved swirl of out of place sound in the backdrop of Liz Frasers at this point un-honed vocals. To say I don’t understand this record is avoiding the obvious fact that I don’t enjoy listening to it, but the album may well be purposefully strange. Almost every track is an uncomfortable swirl of insanity, and the guitars rarely do anything more than unsettle, and the songs do not conclude very well. One has to wonder, judging from the sharp rise in quality with the proceeding record Head Over Heels, whether this disorder was intended. But the album does have it’s redeeming moments that justify it’s existence. Blind Dumb Deaf is absolutely gorgeous in a sad paranoid way, the title track Garlands is actually kind of interesting, and Wax and Wane is often cited as a Cocteau Twins favorite by hardcore fans who like the bands earlier work. The truth is, this is just setup for the brilliance of Head Over Heels and the spectacular career that follows, but this might actually be your thing if you are looking for early gothic music.

Oceans 11 Soundtrack
Ocean's 11
For a movie that has an otherwise fantastic soundtrack, the CD release is a let down in most all ways. Whoever compiled this clearly did not know what the hell they were doing, that simple. What struck me about Oceans 11 most the first time I saw it was the awesome jazz score, but on here, most of the songs are smashed in value by way of either brevity or inclusion of in-movie dialogue. Tunes like Pickpockets, Ruben’s In, and Stealing The Pinch, and Hookers would be ten times more enjoyable if they weren’t so criminally short, and the dialogue sprinkled throughout is not only unnecessary but also annoying. Some otherwise darling Percy Faith songs are only played as background music to dialogue… So stupid. What saves this for near salvation in the longrun is the fact that the music is fantastic. Boobytrapping, The Projets, Gritty Shaker, $160 Million Chinese Man, and 69 Police are all great songs and long enough for the keeping. Claire de Lune is, as always, a charming classic as well. But the fact of the matter is, the production here is catastrophic. Fans of the movie and it’s music deserve better, and this just doesn’t deliver on the level it should.

Smashing Pumpkins – Rotten Apples: The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits
Rotten Apples
As a sampler to the Smashing Pumpkins discography, Rotten Apples does a fair job, but as a Greatest Hits compilation it fails on a few levels. For one thing, the song selection is rather mixed. To be fair, this is not “Rotten Apples: Best Of Smashing Pumpkins.” Instead, we are treated to what is supposed to be the bands biggest hits on the radio, and in many ways those hits are not presented well enough. Any fan could make the argument that certain songs should have been included, but for a few reasons this compilation just can’t decide whether it wants to be a Greatest Hits or a Best Of, so it falters more in the face of these complaints. The choice of including a shortened version of Drown from the Singles soundtrack is a nice treat though, and two bonus unreleased songs are saved for last as the incentive for fans. These two songs are, no question, fantastic. But attention to the bands whole career is divided between it’s uneven components at the demise of quality of songs. Once again, personal preference is a prevalent complaint. Mayonaise was a much bigger hit than Disarm, and there was no reason whatsoever to include Eye at all. Landslide is truly one of the bands greater gems, but it does not reflect on it’s respective album quite as much as something like Frail And Bedazzled would. If you want a place to start, this might be the best bet you have.

Nirvana – Nirvana Unplugged
Nirvana Unplugged
For as long as I can remember, Nirvana Unplugged has haunted, amazed, and touched me on levels that no other record can. It would be silly for me to pretend that this isn’t my all time favorite record considering how much I come back to it even after long periods of leaving the bands music on the backburner. Every song here is a classic, and each song, be it one of the bands songs or one of the covers, is flexed to it’s otherwise unseen limits, displaying all their glory at completely new revealing angles. Instrumentally, the music is hypnotizing, and I’m yet to figure out why even after all these years, but the perfect rhythm section probably helps and the beautiful guitars are always wonderful. The momentum the album carries is never interrupted, from the Beatles pop of About A Girl through the Meat Puppets set straight down to the Leadbelly cover. Absolutely every moment on this album is as good as can be; there is not one weak song, and even Something In The Way, which I have always considered to be one of Nirvana’s lesser songs from their popular days, is seamlessly transformed into a wonderful gem. Considering Kurt Cobain shot up some heroine right before this show and was nervous out of his mind, the quality of the music is nothing short of miraculous. The band is, in fact, in better playing condition than they have ever been, even if Dave isn’t used to playing so quietly and Kurt is high and emotionally broken. There is clearly an uneasiness here, which makes the listening experience that much more enjoyable. Kurt exaggerates the price of a Leadbelly guitar among other precious nuances shared with the audience in between songs, as if to hide what emotions are really there. Thankfully, this music speaks emotions that words cannot capture and more than makes up for the less than adequate suicide note that Kurt would write in not that many more weeks. This is not only the greatest recording Nirvana ever did, but it is also the unequivocal culmination of their entire career, perfectly tying up any loose ends and leaving me with nothing more to desire from what has always been my favorite band even under deep scrutiny. It is my personal opinion that no record is ever completely perfect, but for all intents and purposes, this is as perfect to me as any album has ever been.

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Ten More Reviews

March 15, 2007

Cocteau Twins – Love’s Easy Tears

Love’s Easy Tears kind of ties Echoes In A Shallow Bay as the Cocteau Twins best EP. It’s killer, that much is obvious; both Orange Appled and Those Eyes, That Mouth are frequent picks for favorite songs by the band, and both are fantastic. Those Eyes, That Mouth is a hypnotic pop love wave, and it’s really hard to get better than that. But Orange Appled does it. The song is just about as good as Carolyn’s Fingers if not better. It has a killer hook and a quenching Guthrie solo alongside absolutely gorgeous vocals, as usual, from Liz Fraser. The title track is also very fun and simple, and Sigh’s Smell of Farewell is nice too, just not as good as the others. In short, this is vintage Cocteau Twins, and some of the best of it. Don’t waste any time; if you are a fan who wants to delve into the EPs, go for this first. First timers should pick it up if nothing else because the songs are fantastic, but it might be better to start with a full album like Treasure or Blue Bell Knoll.

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Psychocandy

When The Jesus And Mary Chain first started out, they had an idea, and it was delicious. And usable too, and even better, it could appeal to a mass market. Fans of pop and catchy hooks could appreciate the melodicism, and punk rockers valued the noise and chaos in the sonic density. The idea was to ultimately slam innocent pop tunes into a wall of sonic guitar sheen and noise, and the result is somewhat reminiscent of the albums title. It is candy and very sweet candy, that much is true. But it is candy in the most perverse and guilty way possible. Just listen to any track on this album and you will hear the utterly ingenious pop flowing through different parts in ways that even The Beatles would be somewhat impressed with if the production was smoother. But it’s not. It’s both rough and smooth, ugly and beautiful. These tunes are constantly accompanied by a sonic wall of meaty feedback, guitar shine, and occasionally the addition of a disturbing but fun sound effect like a hushed scream of agony in the background or an unintentional burst of noise. And it just keeps coming. Every track on this album is priceless in some way, from the pretty surf rock ballad Some Candy Talking to the relaxed rock of Taste The Floor to the pretty Just Like Honey and even the garden variety punk of Never Understand. Each song has an almost sinisterly simple beat and a simple chord progression. Even skilled musicians will sit and think to themselves, “hey, I could have written this.” But then they will realize that they so couldn’t have. What’s really amazing about this is how none of the songs have choruses or verses…a melody or tune is never used for more than a half minute, after which a completely new and impressive hook is thrown the listeners way. It’s candy, delicious sweet candy, and only a skilled band could have made it. It would take a little while for The Jesus And Mary Chain to reach a wider market and truly gain respect, but this is the start of something beautiful and easily The Chain’s best album.

Led Zeppelin – Coda

This is really not as bad of an album as you have been told it is. If you would even consider it an album. We should really be thankful of Jimmy Paige and company for releasing this after our dear John Bonham died, although it was more of a contractual thing than an act of kindness, but in any case this wraps up just about everything the band had to release save a good live album which would take a few decades to surface. So this is a b-sides collection. It doesn’t do anything more or less, and considering only a select few album tracks by the band are ever bad, this isn’t a huge blemish on the bands discography. We’re Gonna Grove is a pretty immediate winner, and it goes back to the blues rock that the band started out with. Wearing And Tearing is actually also very good, an answer to the seventies punk movement. Beyond that, Bonzo’s Montreux is an interesting drum-fest and Poor Tom is among the best of the bands Led Zeppelin 3 material, and most likely the best on the album. Yeah, of the two sides, half the material is bad, but not disposable. For a band where every scrap is a treasure, this is really pretty good. But only for the hardcore Zep fan.

My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow Single

The Only Shallow single from My Bloody Valentine is actually a promo on vinyl that subscribers to certain French magazines acquired in a 1992 issue. The single contains three great songs, the first of which is Only Shallow, one of the better songs from Loveless. The song is truly single material, and it’s huge sound and wonderful melody are reasons enough to have made this single at all. But two b-sides are also included. Sugar is a MBV classic and one of the bands rarest songs. Instrumental B is also very good, and was released prior to this single on the Instrumentals promo a few years earlier, accompanying the Isn’t Anything release. A true rarity for hardcore MBV fans; it’s an antique, but it’s probably worth a ton and well worth the price if just to hear Sugar.

Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth

Back in 2005, Nine Inch Nails returned from a six year fallout with the fifth studio album and nineteenth Halo, With Teeth. I remember driving home from the record store and listening to this for the first time, and I was generally impressed. This album does get a lot of shit though, and I can’t exactly put my finger on why. Collectively I suppose it is kind of weak, but this easily delivers some of Reznor’s finest material since The Downward Spiral. The sound still echoes of The Fragile’s reconstructive cool production, but the album still stands alone with a good amount of success. It’s a compelling enough listen to make fans happy, and the songs are very good. Many songs are characterized by heavy riffing, especially the grooving The Collector and a popular live/club pick, The Hand That Feeds. But most of the songs are very individual, especially Only, Every Day Is Exactly The Same (a personal favorite and subject of it’s own remix EP), and Beside You In Time. The disk ends on Right Where It Belongs, a very Hurt-esque ballad that deserves some respect. The problems are minimal, and this is about as consistent as The Fragile, simply one disk less. If this is the future of Nine Inch Nails, I’m happy. Without a doubt this is the worst album NIN has produced thus far, but considering this album is very good, I think that says a lot for how much talent Reznor actually has. A good one, hardly disposable like most people will tell you.

Singles Soundtrack

Singles really wasn’t that great for a date flick, but it had a pretty good soundtrack and at least captured the look and part of the feel of the 1990s Seattle grunge scene. In retrospect, this soundtrack is probably less disposable than the movie itself. The soundtrack is mostly comprised of various rarities from some of Seattle’s most popular rock acts, save the conspicuous absence of any Nirvana. And there were some songs from the movie that didn’t make it here, namely Alice in Chains’ It Ain’t Like That and Soundgarden’s Spoonman. But hell, you probably already had those songs if you were ever interested in this disk in the first place. For that reason, the inclusion of Would? and I Nearly Lost You is probably unnecessary to the grunge fan, but both songs are fantastic in any case. Other highlights include some contributions from former Replacement John Westerberg, some really good Pearl Jam rarities, Soundgarden’s Birth Ritual (one of Chris Cornells best vocal performances), and a great Mother Love Bone take. It’s more of an odds and ends collection, but that is actually good, and you would stand well to pick this up if you like grunge or 90s alt rock.

But come on, theres no version of the movies original novelty “Touch Me I’m Dick.” That would have been a hilarious inclusion.

Malory – Not Here, Not Now

A decent shoegaze album, Not Here Not Now delivers the dreamy goods in as good of a way as it can. The problem is probably a lack of originality, because the band rips on Slowdive pretty relentlessly. This can only be complained about so much considering Slowdive are one of the worthiest bands to rip on in the genre, but the sampling only makes Not Here, Not Now more easy to call an attempted Souvlaki clone. If anything, the acquisition of this album would be justified enough by the opening Falling, an absolutely gorgeous dreamy instrumental that is nothing like anything else on the record. But the rest of the album doesn’t exactly continue with this same style and very obviously draws influence from Slowdive in just about every way. But in the same way Kevin Shields would probably be proud of some of Pia Fraus’ escapades, Neil Halstead probably wouldn’t have too much of a problem with someone drawing heavily from his style if it is done this tastefully. Dany, Sunday Nights, and Spring are all gorgeous songs, but once again, you can’t help but feel like you are being lied to. Everything down to the male/female vocals, soft beats, and emotional guitars, this practically IS Slowdive, the only difference being the bands serious problems with concluding their songs which Slowdive can conversely do very well; the most pretty of these songs just seem to drone with no conclusion when they were clearly within sight. It’s good, but uninspired and unfortunately completely disposable.

My Bloody Valentine – Olympia, Paris

While every My Bloody Valentine bootleg can be considered a treasure, this may well be the bands worst available bootleg that I have heard, and extremely overrated. The band is simply not in fantastic playing condition at this show, for one thing. But the real killer is the fact that the recording quality is atrocious. This bootleg is really almost unlistenable, but it does win in one respect on one song. The version of To Here Knows When here is good if you crank it up to ludicrous volumes and appreciate it for what one of MBVs greatest charms is, a wall of beautiful sound. However, this is really the only time that this bootleg is worth anything.

Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports

The ambient breakthrough of Brian Eno, Music For Airports was the blooming result of years of ideas and contemplation. Eno first honed his pop skills with the utmost reliability, and then took a turn for the experimental. The new idea was mood music, relaxing pieces that could be used in films or to make someone feel a certain way with just instruments. The new direction was explored with great success on Another Green World, again employed on Music For Films, and completely fleshed out into an ambient masterpiece with Music For Airports. The idea was simple, and utterly ingenious. Eno had been in an airport and had a bad experience witht he music playing, and decided to make a record of music built specifically for being played for the enjoyment of a wide array of people in public places. The soul of the music is relaxation and sheer beauty, but when the music is analyzed as closely as Eno explains it, it only makes more and more sense. The music had to be long so that it wasn’t changing too much on the listener, easily interrupted by P.A. systems, higher or lower than voice frequency so to not be a nuisance, and ever changing to keep the listeners interest. And beyond that, the music also had to be non intrusive a nd passive in the background of a situation, and also accessible to a wealth of people. While this is not the first album to employ modern ambient sounds, it is surely one of Eno’s most influential and enjoyable ambient works.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon

Considering the direction that it’s predecessor Bryter Layter took, Nick Drake’s last album is at first seemingly a step backward. The complexities of Nick Drake’s other work has been conspicuously stripped down to it’s core, a brutally honest album consisting of little more than Drake’s voice and a skillfully played acoustic guitar. And even more touching is how sudden and momentous it feels. And yet Pink Moon doesn’t play like anything close to a suicide note or a final farewell so much as a deeply personal and trusting letter from a friend. Aftergiving this gem enough time to unfold, every song can reveal a subtle relaxing beauty. The title track is fantastic if not a little misleading, projecting the definitive late night chill image. But as the album goes on, the music stays revealing and yet surprisingly simple. Only someone such as Nick Drake could possibly say so much with only a few chord strums like he does on Horn or discuss mixed feelings like on Parasite. In many ways, this is as close to Nick Drake as you will ever get, and as moving of an album as it is relaxing. Truly a classic album, taking the best of the folk genre and it’s most important aspects and bringing nothing more than poetry and personal taste.

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Nine Inch Nails – Broken

January 6, 2007

With all due respect, should Pretty Hate Machine really stand as the obelisk that it is over the industrial genre? I’m personally not so sure. It is a great record, that much is true, but if anything it should get the respect for breaking ground and being the first great industrial record there was. But by now, the record is simply dated. While the songs are mostly fantastic, the production does not quite live up to todays standards, a fair amount of industrial ideals are not fleshed out, and it is simply not the best industrial record there is. It sounds very eighties even when I listen to it now. There is a lot of echo on the vocals and snare, and the instrumentation is very programmed. Pretty Hate Machine is damn good, and it brought a vital sense of clarity to the genre, but not only is it not as good as The Downward Spiral but it also doesn’t change much or express the anger that the industrial genre can often times be all about. Trent Reznor was really getting somewhere with Head Like A Hole and proved himself by making a fantastic electronica record, but it wasn’t until his follow up EP record Broken when his ambitions truly came first circle.

By 1992, Trent Reznor, the main man behind Nine Inch Nails, was in a frustrating place. He had basically been fucked over by TVT for the past three years and was having extremely hard times with the label releasing any music. That as well as a live lineup that was hard pressed to settle and the frustration of setting up a new lable that he wouldn’t be pained by, the still active Nothing, surely made Reznor pretty upset. The freedom of having his own label prooved fruitful, because now he could move where ever he wanted musically and express anger through music of his recent problems. That’s exactly what he did. He sacrificed a bit of polish to get his feelings out appropriately. For that reason, while Broken may not be as good, important, or rewarding as Pretty Hate Machine, it at least seems to make a bit more sense and is more honest about things. This is the first of NINs records to feature outward anger and grinding guitars that would come to distinguish some of the later records. For these reasons and more, this is sort of a landmark record in NINs career.

The opening track Pinion is a bit of useless filler, but it foreshadows things to come, so it does sort of have a use. Same thing goes for Help Me I Am In Hell. Both are essentially throwaway instrumentals, but some of Reznors later instrumental creations would be in the same league and yet infinitely better. These tracks could have just been made louder and they would have meant significantly more. But if these tracks really meant that much and Reznor really had that much to say, this would have been a full album and not an EP. But theres not anything wrong with just an EP, because this one does justice. The other four initial songs are fantastic.

The second song Wish is the standout, and the one that got radio play. It’s fast, driving, and adrenaline pounding, qualities that nothing on Pretty Hate Machine had all of. Head Like A Hole had two of them but it was just a bit too top heavy to really get the listener completely excited, and at that it’s intentions were simply different and it suceeded more in being a sexual song. Wish, however, does the job. It’s flaw is a big one though that almost puts it on the line. I have never had a problem with any of Nine Inch Nail’s production other than with this song. After Trent says “This is the first day of my last days,” the guitar explosion sounds mediocre when it could sound less fuzzy and much cooler. The rest of the song is fine but this misfire that repeats itself throughout the song is a big problem for the song, and for that reason it doesn’t quite unseat Head Like A Hole as coolest and most effective song for up to this point in Trent Reznor’s career.

The other songs are just as good. Happiness In Slavery is a fantastic jolt of anger, and expresses honest feelings about a lack of freedom in the record industry (at least that’s what I think). A heavy swagger is enduced fully and effectively by Last, and is just as headbangable as Wish despite how slow it is. It broods, something that is great for industrial music. And Gave Up is cool too, but not quite as good as it’s predecessors. It does feature guitar production that should have been featured on Wish, and putting the two next to one another is very telling.

And then after Gave Up wraps up, we have ninety one consecutive one second long tracks of silence. Anyone with half a brain knows there is a bonus track in store. In fact, there are two, and they are both covers. The songs are Physical (You’re So) by Adam And The Ants (interesting choice) and Suck by Pigface. Both songs aren’t very close to the mood of the rest of the songs on the EP, but there was really no reason to hide them as they are both very good. Physical (You’re So) is a perfect vessel for Trent Reznor’s more light tastes, and yet it is just as heavy and romping as it’s predecessors. Even so, it is almost positive in a hard rock sort of way. It is a completely faithful yet strikingly new interpretation on an already good song. The last track, Suck, measures up though. I’m not completely familiar with Pigface at all so I don’t really know the origins of this song too well at all, but I believe even the original had Trent on vocals and he may have also been a songwriter. I don’t think this is Pigface’s original version, but it’s a great song.

Really, I can’t say enough good things about this EP. It’s actually one of my favorite EPs ever just because it stays completely consistant without really missing a beat save a few tiny things I could nitpick about, and it builds on Trent Reznors ever-expanding stylistic repertoire. This is essential for even casual fans, and stands tall next all of NINs full albums, even Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. If you like industrial, or even just hard rock or metal, GET THIS. Don’t even think twice.