Before I begin to dig into this EP, I would first like to shout out a really great review done on big bad Pfork on The Fragile.
Onwards. I am enjoying the heck out of this record. It is certainly not a groundbreaking NIN album, but if you’ve got a good speaker system or some juicy headphones, treat yourself to the sonic delights of perfectly produced music. Reznor is really good at splitting channels in songs, which doesn’t come to it’s full potential until the listener pops on a headseat and is trapped in an aural teeter-totter. (Side note, this is also a way to hear some lyrics better. On many tracks the wall-of-sound is hard-panned to one side and then the lyrics come out crisp and clear on the other.)
I would also like to take a moment to address some oddities I found on the interwebs before I began: One of his grimiest records since Downward Spiral (wuh-hut??); blasé reviews on The Slip & Hesitation Marks (is. you. doin??); no one ever talking about Ghosts I-IV (bruh.) So for those in the back who weigh in when they feel like having an opinion on a record they half-assed listened to once: fuck all y’all. To me there are only two reasons to have these dumb ideas: you haven’t gotten over Downward Spiral and expect every album to be more of the same (ew) OR you hopped on the wagon because you thought With Teeth was awesome (double ew). The reason why Ghosts I-IV is so important to the catalog is that it concludes the content of the previous albums and ushers in the new era. Essentially, Year Zero is what With Teeth was supposed to be–the capstone to anger and desolation & in the same moment restored fans faith in Trent Reznor. So, everything that has been made since Ghosts I-IV is the new age of Nine Inch Nails. You will need to accept and enjoy complex electronic rhythms, exploration into new genres (world, jazz, funk), and letting your mind meditate in the atmospheric murk if you want to continue to appreciate their albums.
Now that the emotional vomit is out, let’s move on.
- “Branches / Bones” really showcases the industrial-wall-of-sound that Reznor has been cultivating at least since The Fragile‘s “Starfuckers, Inc.”, if not much earlier. It’s sort of like screaming into a pillow before having a hard conversation and it works as a nice wake-the-fuck-up track.
- “Dear World,” is so drum heavy it makes it hard to breath. When all the sounds are combined there is no pause, no rest. So when it breaks out into thinner layers it feels like a relief. And right when it stops and you can hear yourself think for a second, in pumps the 2-channel voice layers. It’s very The Slip and very tasty.
- “She Gone Away” is so rad. I love nothing more than the gravelly bottom of Reznor’s range, yum yum yum. On a more serious note, both the music and vocal arrangements are very reminiscent of Puscifer songs; and I can’t help but wonder if this is what the never-materialized Reznor-Maynard album would have sounded like. The bassline is basic and mesmerizing. If Not the Actual Events is some sort of nostalgia tour then the drum and bass interplay on this track definitely reeks of The Fragile‘s “I’m Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally.”
- The chanty/yelly vocal parts on “The Idea of You,” oddly enough, remind me a lot of Faith No More. And if Trent whispering in the background ala “Closer” and “I Do Not Want This” is your heaven, then welcome to your next favorite track. AND, for those of you who have been bellyaching about “too much electronic,” here is your bleedin’ rock track.
- It’s very possible that “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” is my favorite song of the bunch. The opening stanza “I’m goin’ back/ Of course I am/ As if I ever had a choice/ Back to what I always knew I was/ On the inside/ Back to what I really am” feels like a lyrical home. And on a much more personal note, is really resonating with my ever closer return-of-Saturn. The music is grimey, crunchy and electric. There are also moments where the bass guitar and bass drum drop at the same moment and give that endlessly deep sound I most often associate with the most soul ripping Korn drops (I know, I know, who makes Korn references–but. it. applies.) I always feel a little blah about rock artists imitating fascist rallies ala NIN, Manson, Pink Floyd, etc. Mostly because I have a deep concern about/experience with this being turned by some less critically-analyzing fans into these bands condoning Nazism, which as far as I can tell is the exact opposite of what the artists are doing. But in this case, it’s faint enough that I can kind of stop and enjoy the journey instead of being worried about Reznor acci-encouraging neo-Nazi assholes.
Overall this EP is good. It does have a lot of compositional overlap with previous albums, but it’s enjoyable, not a drag. It feels kinda like a B-sides collection. Who doesn’t love B-sides? My bigger hope is that…does that mean we’re gonna get another tour?? Because man, oh man, does Reznor put on amazing. fucking. shows. *sigh* I guess I’ll just have to cross my fingers, hold my breath, and wish upon a star.