Year Zero – Nine Inch Nails


Release Year: 2007

Rating: 9/10

While this LP did pretty well in sales, it still gets overshadowed by some of Nine Inch Nail’s essential records. This time around, Reznor made a concept album rather than turning inward for song ideas. Though it may take a while for fans to get into, it’s impressive with songs ranging from catchy and aggressive to down right bleak. Conscious lyrics, strong themes, and intricate instrumentation make for Nine Inch Nail’s most complex album to date. It takes more than one listen to fully understand it.

Things kick off with the heavy and bombastic instrumental “Hyperpower!”Setting up the tone of the album, intense percussion introduces the track while the other instruments come in one at a time. There’s this pounding rhythm that sounds like an army marching. This feeling is amped up when random shouting starts up. Things get more distorted and chaotic as the song reaches its end and gives way to the next track. “The Beginning of the End” sets up the Big Brother, dystopian theme that runs through the album. Paranoia runs rampant as Reznor talks about others watching you and listening to what you say. It’s definitely not the strongest song here, but it manages to have that distinguishable NIN sound.

Reznor pulls out the funk for “The Good Soldier.” The music is on the groovy side of things and makes you shimmy when it comes on. The throbbing bass is awesome, especially since it comes in when Reznor sings “When the bass goes ‘bomb’.” Midway through light xylophone music infiltrates like a glimmer of hope that’s buried underneath the distortion. Like most of the songs here, this one is pretty bleak. The lyrics describe a soldier who clearly doesn’t believe in what he or she is fighting for, but keeps “trying to believe.” It’s a provocative song that could be applied to thoughts on war. This track leads right to the torn and tattered “Vessel.” The music here is amazing. It’s rough, harsh, scratching, and full of noise. All throughout the music gets more violent and turns into something robotic and fuzzy at the end.

If there’s one really catchy, radio friendly track on the album it’s “Capital G.” The music is really upbeat and isn’t as hard as it is on the other songs. Considering when the song came out, many thought it was about the Bush administration; that’s what I even thought. But Reznor has actually stated the G stands for Greed, which makes a lot of sense when you consider lyrics like “Ain’t gonna worry about no future generations and a/And I’m sure somebody’s gonna figure it out.” The lyrics are so poignant and critical that it could just as easily be applied to Bush as well. Things get disturbing on “Meet Your Master,” which talks about someone who has decided to oppose society and is being punished with death. What I really like here are Reznor’s vocals, which are so full of anger and passion to really get the message across. Both are stellar tracks that show why this record is so poignant.

The most unsettling and impressive song is “The Greater Good.” The opening music has more of a hip-hop flavor before light music comes in and twists around as if it’s trying to put the listener in a trance. What makes it really creepy is the way Reznor whispers lines like “Breathe.. us in. Slowly.” With the haunting vocals and the looping music makes it sound like a subliminal message is being broadcast. Reznor pulls off this effect so flawlessly it feels like he’s getting in your head. It’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album. A somewhat peaceful moment comes in the form of “In this Twilight.” The music is very pretty and calming creating this relaxing mood. The content sort of keeps up this tone: it seems to be about people watching the skies as the world comes to an end. They know they will die, but think they’ll be better off in the end. Guess it’s not that mellow in the end.

What’s interesting about the record is a lot of music goes back to the early days of NIN. Really harsh, aggressive synth beats take over “The Warning,” while “Me, I’m Not” features a lot of beeps and boops in the music layered over a looping drumbeat. These tracks along with others like “Survivalism” are electronic and synth based, much like Reznor’s earlier material. Sometimes the tracks make you think of albums like Pretty Hate Machine or The Downward Spiral. The difference is it never sounds like Reznor is repeating himself. Rather, he’s uses noise filled music to match the chaotic and violent theme of the songs. He does branch out on tracks like “God Given,” which employs a rap style to his vocals and “My Violent Heart,” which uses hip-hip influences like record scratching to get it’s gritty tone, but even fans of his earliest work will find something to latch onto.

Overall, the album gets 9/10. Many say that NIN’s third release is their most underrated, but for me this one takes that title. Not only is it filled with catchy, synth based song reminiscent of Reznor earlier material, there’s also music that goes beyond his comfort zone. And with a theme about a dystopian Big Brother-esque society, it’s a complex album. It takes several listens before you grasp everything that’s being said. Still, since the record is so great you won’t mind experiencing the music again.


Playlist: Seeing Double

After being with one band for a while, some musicians are itching to do something different. Rather than getting experimental and releasing it under their established outfit, some prefer to form new bands altogether. Most of the time these side bands are not very impressive and very rarely do they outshine the core band. But if done well, a side band can at least separate itself from their well known work. There are tons of these groups out there, but there are only a few that do their best to differentiate themselves from the core band. I know I missed a lot of groups out there (let me know which ones in the comments), but here are some of my favorite songs from these great and interesting side bands.

“Level” – The Racounteurs

Sometimes it feels like Jack White is in a new band every other week. While in the highly successful White Stripes, he recruited Brenden Benson and other musicians to form this rag tag and gritty group. Though the music is still filled with White’s impressive and innovative guitar playing, the overall feel of the band is rougher and harsher than The White Stripes. The music takes on more of a folk rock feel while still incorporating elements of blues and alternative rock. This is one of the best cuts from their debut album. It finds White and Benson sharing vocal duty leaving lots of room for complex guitar solos. The band would go on to release one more album before going on hiatus. Truth be told, we probably won’t see anymore new music from the group considering White’s successful solo career and his work with The Dead Weather.

“Standing There” – The Creatures

Siouxsie and the Banshees were never afraid to play around with their sound, but this side project featuring Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie was spontaneous. You never knew what type of song they were going to do next. As this track shows, the band was also more in tune with their animal nature. A lot of the sounds and images used in their songs made listeners get in touch with their primal instincts. It’s no surprise since Sioux and Budgie were dating at the time. “Standing There” has vibrant horns, giving it a swing feel, and tribal like percussion that booms throughout the track. The catchiness of the chorus and the Latin dancing featured in the video will make you grab a flamenco skirt and clap fiercely with Siouxsie Sioux. The Creatures would go on to release a total of three albums, but this remains one of their best songs.

“When Your Heart Stops Beating” – +44

The nasty “hiatus” of Blink-182 resulted in two bands from founders Mark and Tom: Angels and Airwaves and +44. While Tom’s band was trying to change the world and the face of music, +44 just wanted to rock out. Consisting of Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker, Shane Gallagher, and Craig Fairbaugh, the short lived band released their debut in 2006 with the following song as their lead single. The track is catchy, full of energy, and just puts you in a good mood. It’s not drastically different from what the guys would do in Blink, but it managed to satisfy heartbroken fans. The album did fairly well, but couldn’t match the success of Hoppus’ previous band. It’s a shame because the LP is actually really good filled with irresistible pop punk. They may not have strayed too far from the working formula, but the result was still upbeat and a lot of fun to listen to. Hopefully, there’ll be more music from them in the future.

“I Feel So” – Box Car Racer

This is yet another offshoot of Blink-182. Formed shortly after the release of their fourth album, this band featuring Tom Delonge and Travis Barker went for a heavier sound and drew a lot of influences from punk rock. The album explored dark and serious issues while chugging guitars and lots of distortion played in the background. This single doesn’t featured Delonge’s best writing, but the intense guitars and simple chorus give it a punch. Anyone who listened to this album should not have been surprised when Blink changed their direction for their self titled release. The band was moderately successful, but only released one album. While it was decent it didn’t do much in the alternative rock scene, but it is a lot better than Delonge’s current side band. Some may even say this project began Blink’s downfall since Mark Hoppus was upset he was not part of it.

“Snuff on Digital” – Blaqk Audio

Some side bands have issues making themselves distinct from the core band. This is not the case with Blaqk Audio. Featuring Davey Havok and Jade Puget from punk outfit AFI, this project finds the guys trading in distorted guitars for keyboards. The music here is strictly electronic and synth based with some elements of dark and new wave. Rather than moshing, this music will make you want to dance. Some of it makes you think of the ’80s while others are reminiscent of ’90s techno. Even though it’s a different genre Havok keeps his haunting lyrics in tact. This track is one of the most upbeat and infectious from their debut album Cexcells. Since they released a sophomore LP in 2012 there’s a good chance we’ll hear more music from them in the future.

“Clint Eastwood” – Gorillaz

The Gorillaz are so popular and well known it’s easy to forget they’re an offshoot of Blur. Whereas Blur were the finest example of Britpop, the Gorillaz were all over the place in terms of genre. With elements of hip-hop, pop, electronic, funk, and soul it’s hard to pin them down. Their debut single named after the iconic actor remains one of their best songs. Though Del the Funky Homosapien laid down the rhymes, Damn Albarn’s cryptic singing during lines like “I’ve got sunshine/in a bag” are the most memorable.

“Kamikaze” – Plastic Visions

This band features Brad Shultz of Cage the Elephant and his cousin Kane Stewart; truly a family affair. Cage the Elephant are known for their brash, wild sound and some of that is present on this project. What makes it different is the fusion of punk, noise rock, and surf rock to create their fuzzy, rough sound. This track is the first off their EP and features unchained vocals (similar to Matt Shultz) and scratchy guitars that sound like static. The short, punchy songs are full of energy with this track being one of their finest. Though they’ve only started, hopefully we can expect a full length album from them in the near future.

“Spike” – The Network

When Billie, Mike, and Tre aren’t running around with Green Day they have several musical projects to turn to. One of them is the weird, punk, and electro inspired band The Network. Though the guys tried their best to say they weren’t in the band it’s hard to deny once you hear Billie’s distinct vocals. Rather than their stadium pop-punk, the guys go new wave with lots of synth and odd songs involving lots of sex and drugs. This is one of the best songs from their sole album because it maps out the sad and humorous journey of a junkie trying to score. The track is interesting because there’s very little singing involved. It’s pretty much Spike having a phone conversation with the occasional “I need a fix” for the chorus. It’s a cool idea that the band manages to pull off. Also, I love the way Billie says “La Jolla.” Guess that’s my inner fangirl coming out.

“Punish Me with Kisses” – The Glove

This project is the brainchild of The Cure’s Robert Smith and Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Surprisingly, it features Jeanette Landray, not Smith,  on vocals. At the time, Smith said it was because he wanted more of a background position, but many speculate it was intervention from the label. Still, it’s easy to tell Smith is involved with the project. Though the band managed to get more bluesy and trippy at times, the flourishing keys and dreamy lyrics all sound so similar to The Cure. The frontman even did vocals for the entire album, but they can only be found on the re-release of their album. Landray does a decent job, but Smith’s vocals are the best.

“At Your Funeral” – Pinhead Gunpowder

This band originally formed in the early ’90s and features both Billie Joe Armstrong and Jason White. Though they’ve been around for a while, since two of the members are in Green Day they’ve released very few albums. Unlike their other side projects, this one has a very brash, classic punk rock sound mixed with raw garage rock. Still, it’s hard to miss Billie’s distinct vocals, especially since he gives everything a melodic tone. This track is a personal favorite. It’s rude, snotty, and cynical like so many of Green Day’s best songs. It may be short, but it’s to the point. You can’t miss the snarl as Armstrong sings “At your funeral/Things will be different/I will feel so good.” If you want to get into the band, then this is the best song to start with.

“38” – Revolting Cocks

Featuring Al Jourgensen, Richard 23, and Luc Van Acker, plus a long list of revolving players, this industrial band shares many similarities with Jourgensen’s band Ministry. The above song sounds like something from the band’s earlier efforts. They don’t shy away from the industrial genre, but they also delves into alternative and metal with a hint of psychedelia. Whereas as Ministry was a serious outfit touching on political issues, RC is more self aware and includes a lot of humor and risque topics in their songs. This track is from their debut Big Sexy Land and sports more attitude and less parody than their later material.

“Outsider” – A Perfect Circle

I’ve always preferred this group over the core band Tool. While there are some similarities between the two, this outfit focuses more on alternative and prog rock along with psychedelic influences for an ethereal and haunting sound. Instead of bringing on a heavy mood Maynard Keenan and co keep things on the mellow side, though as this song show things can get intense. While they’ve done some amazing covers of “Imagine” and “Let’s Have a War,” this single shows off their blended sound and will be the most appealing to Tool fans.

“Lies of the Beautiful People” – Sixx AM

While Niki Sixx will always be known for his work in Motley Crue, he has a successful career with his band Sixx AM. With a heavier sound and more thoughtful lyrics than the Crue ever had, Sixx AM deals with issues of beauty, drugs, and addiction. A lot of the material stems from Sixx’s past as a heroine addict. Their debut album was even named after his autobiography The Heroin Diaries. “Lies of the Beautiful People” features the guitarist’s signature riffs and fiery playing style, paired with James Michael the strong and passionate vocals. Talking about the obsession with beauty, the video is a gruesome look at what some will do to meet society’s standards.

“Stop Drop and Roll!!!” – Foxboro Hot Tubs

Yet another side project of Green Day. Whereas the Network focused on new wave, this band has more of a rockabilly vibe with hints of surf rock and psychedelic. With their raw sound they feel like a garage band from the ’60s. The guys cut loose here as Billie takes on the sleazy persona of The Reverend, who howls in just about every song. The band is notable because it sounds nothing like Green Day, which isn’t an easy feat for most side bands. The title track from their solid debut album shows off the vintage, dirty, and sleazy vibe of the music. Since their first album was so promising, hopefully we’ll get some new music from them in the future.

Spooky Tricks – My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult

51YU1Qj8z8L._SL500_AA280_Release Year: 2014

Rating: 8.5/10

Thrill Kill Kult have been spreading their infectious, sexy, groovy music for almost 30 years. Never one to be pigeonholed no two albums of theirs is alike. The same goes for their latest release. Here, they reference some of what they’ve done in the past with ’70s inspired grooves and new wave sensibility, but with electronic elements added in, the band shows how they’re always evolving. The LP is full of songs that’ll get you dancing no matter where you are. It shows TKK has still got it and they sound damn sexy while doing it.

Things kick off with “Room on the Moon.” It has the staples of a classic TKK song: weird samples from various sources and odd, scary sounds to greet the listener. But once the drums start pulsating and the music builds up around it, you know you’re getting something new from the guys. The addition of synth beats and riffs make it sound like it’s fit for a rave. Once Groovie Mann growls “If I give you some money will you come to my room?” you know you’re in for a trippy ride. From there the music gets so chaotic you can’t distinguish what’s going on. It just shows the different elements they include in their songs.

Along with synth riffs and techno beats, the funk the band loves so much makes its way onto these songs. It comes out the most on “Monti Karlo.” The slick horns and throbbing groove makes this track sound like a perfect fit for a disco club. They also throw in a snake charmer like riff during the chorus to give it a hint of sexiness. Another song inspired by funk grooves is “Neon Diva.” While it does have that sleek groove to it, there’s a part where the music gets dark and spooky. It sounds like a backing track to a campy horror movie. These mixes of funk and creepy are what keep the songs fresh and makes sure the band aren’t repeating themselves.

It’s clear the band haven’t lost their sexy style. Just about each song is dripping with dirty sex. “Bella Piranha” doesn’t hide anything as the chorus rings “Why is everybody staring at my body?” The entire track is in-your-face with its sex drive and isn’t ashamed of it. It’s actually one of the catchiest songs on the LP and has an infectious rhythm full of electronic noise and Latin inspired horns. Definitely one of the best tracks here. You find more of the same sexiness on “Diamonde Doll.” The sensual slow music mixed in with jazz makes it perfect for a sexy night in. It’s like it was made to be a good porn groove.

Thrill Kill Kult haven’t lost their touch; every song is great. Whether they touch on dirty sex like the aptly named “Sex Witch” or highlight drugs as on “Dope Freek” they always want to keep you dancing. “The Way We Live Now” is full of energy and is so upbeat it’s impossible to sit still when you hear it. As always Groovie Mann drops some alluring lyrics: “A game of sex roulette/that’s all you’re gonna get.” Old school TKK fans will love “The Strange Ones.” It’s reminiscent of the scary, but interesting sound found on their debut. The music screeches and howls while the beat skips along. What gives it that classic sinister touch are the distorted vocals making each word sound evil and violent.

Overall, the album gets 8.5/10. 27 years strong and TKK still love to change their sound. Even though some of the songs make you think of the grooves and beats on their previous efforts, it never sounds like they’re repeating themselves. The music is still wild, hot, trippy, and sexy all backed by an irresistible groove. All the elements of classic TKK are there: sex driven lyrics, dope references, and samples galore, but it doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard before. Thrill Kill Kult still knows how to shock and surprise their fans.

Construction Time Again- Depeche Mode

Construction_time_againRelease Year: 1983

Rating: 7/10

As you may know Depeche Mode weren’t always the epic, dark, sensual band they became known for. Their first albums are pretty terrible when compared with their greatest works. The band hates them so much they often dismiss them and refuse to play any of the songs from those eras live. Their third release is an interesting one. While it still can’t hold its own next to masterpieces like Violator, it’s not bad. It’s a step in the right direction for the band with more industrial influences coming through and the songwriting moves away from teeny bop love songs, even though it’s still not really strong.

The first difference you hear from the opening track “Love in Itself” is extensive use of syth. On this track the music sounds like it’s from an 8-bit video game. It’s kind of odd, but in its own way it makes the song stick out. It’s not bad and is one of those tracks that eventually grows on you. “More Than a Party” has frantic kooky music that’s reminiscent of Oingo Boingo. You can tell Martin Gore wanted to try a darker and meaningful tone to his songwriting by trying address greed in our society, but it comes off dumb with Gahan repeating “This is more than a party/more than a party.” It’s something you don’t mind listening to, but it’s not their best. The one track that shows their progress as a band is “Pipeline.”

Even though it’s not one of their biggest hits this song deserves more recognition. It’s a step in the musical direction the band would eventually go. A lot of their industrial sounds come through here with clinging and clanging heard throughout. There are so many interesting noises heard here you need to sit with it a few times with really good headphones to hear them all. All the additional noises and Gore’s light crooning in the background gives an ominous feel to the song. From the way the music progresses and evolves makes it the most complex track on the album. Still, the best song on the record has to be “Everything Counts.”

The content for this song seems to be taken from the band’s experience with record labels, greed, and the extravagance new bands are exposed to. Even though the lyrics are kind of bleak, it’s still really catchy with fun, playful music repeating throughout the track. Seriously, this song is so easy to get stuck in your head. When considering this song and the entire album itself, it’s as if the band felt guilty being exposed to a world of excess due to their new found fame. With songs like this and “Shame” they were showing that they weren’t a part of that world; they knew bigger problems existed in the world. It’s as if they were sending out a message to those who lived that life saying they should be ashamed that they’re not more concerned for the world.

A lot of the songs here have good messages behind them like “The Landscape is Changing,” which addresses the decaying environment and how people should be good to the earth. But due to weak songwriting and an overuse of synth music, most of the songs come off as cheesy. In the aforementioned song, the music is catchy, but how they blatantly say “I don’t case if you’re going nowhere/Just take good care of the world” sounds forced and corny. It’s understandable that they wanted to get away from their previous pop image. They tried this by writing songs with political messages, but since they’re not being true to themselves or writing about what they know, it just comes off forced and dull most of the time kind of like when Green Peace people force you to care about the environment while you’re running late to class.

Overall, the album gets 7/10. It’s not a terrible album, but if you’re looking for the dark and moody Depeche Mode, you won’t find it here. Most of the songs are decent, but it’s clear the songwriting is weak. The forced political messages get tiring and come off as cheesy. But the album is still an important once for the band since it allowed them to experiment with industrial sounds, which would help shape their future sound.

From Beer to Eternity- Ministry

Ministry_-_From_Beer_to_Eternity_cover Release Year: 2013

Rating: 7.5/10

The godfathers of industrial have been going strong for a number of years and even though their later albums haven’t been that memorable it hasn’t slowed them down. While their latest isn’t their greatest work, it’s better than their 2012 release. Whether it had something to do with wanting to make late member Mike Scaccia proud or the band was just on point during this time, it has elements of classic Ministry along with some new tricks that reminds fans why people still love them.

While their last album wasn’t bad, there was something about it that made it weaker than their other releases. But here while it’s not perfect, the band does something right that makes it one of their stronger efforts of their later career. There are some stand out tracks here along with some that aren’t memorable. The opener “Hail to His Majesty” is one of the best songs found here. It begins with a lot of noise and static before it gives way to the heavy, intense beat. It has the industrial sound they are known for, but it also tosses in some light synth to create this weird wavering beat. With its music and humorous lines like “Don’t fucking care at all/’Cause I’m Al Fuckin’ Jourgensen” it’s reminiscent of their older material.

The next track “Punch in the Face” is simple and straight to the point: it’s about punching someone in the face. It’s not their most poignant song, but it satisfies that craving you have for mindless, loud songs about violence. And who hasn’t wanted to punch someone in the face? Again, the intense music and the aggressive lyrics are a throwback to the attitude found on their notable releases. The whole track contains unbridled chaos and anger that we all get sometimes. It’s not their strongest song ever, but it’s one of the stand out ones here. Just as with their last few albums there are some songs that are politically charged, such as “PermaWar” and “Perfect Storm,” but they aren’t as memorable as some of the others here. They’re decent, but they begin to sound the same due to the style and music.

One of the more interesting political songs is “Fairly Unbalanced.” It has a frantic pace that gets you pumped up, but what makes it notable is the various samples it uses from the Fox News Network. The track is about the infamous channel and some of the ludicrous stories they deliver to the public. The next track “The Horror” continues this theme with more samples from the network that show some of the outrageous accusations they make. It contains more of the heavy, industrial style music that was introduced to in the previous track. At times you’ll hear someone saying what sounds like “got you all in a trance,” while the samples are playing. It’s like they’re trying to say the network brainwashes viewers into fearing and fighting for the wrong issues.

While the last album didn’t vary when it came to the music, the guys have several songs here where they change things up, one being “Lesson Unlearned.” It’s actually really catchy with a female singer going “Another lesson unlearned.” It will have you singing along before you know it. Another thing that makes it catchy is the guitar riff. While it has the hard rock sound, it has more of a groove to it. It also has less of an industrial sound here. Another track that has a different sound is “Thanx But No Thanx.” This song is odd in general. It has a reggae and ska inspired beat while Sgt. Major reads a William S. Burrough’s poem over the music. It goes on like this for a while until the music picks up, returns to hard rock, and has Jourgensen screaming “Thanx but no thanx.” It’s a pretty good song, but at seven minutes it runs on too long.

Overall, the album gets 7.5/10. Since the death of Scaccia, Jourgensen has stated that this will be the last Ministry album. While it is better than their 2012 release, it’s not as strong as it could’ve been. There are still quite a number of good songs here, with only a few growing dull after a few minutes, but this record is not memorable like some of their past efforts. Still, it’s a decent send off for a legendary band. The only thing that really annoys me is the title. In the past, the band have had clever titles for their records. Maybe it’s a reference to the late Scaccia, otherwise it just makes you roll your eyes.