Trent Reznor

Add Violence – Nine Inch Nails

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 8.5/10

Nine Inch Nails’ Not the Actual Events EP, the first in a trilogy, wasn’t the fury and fire we expected. While it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t all that memorable. The songs were decent and the mood was forced aggression. But with Add Violence, the second EP, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross hit their stride. They give us a record that successfully mixes new NIN ventures with the challenging and often chilling songs they’re known for. The result is ugly, unpleasant, and unfriendly, something Reznor actually wanted. But this doesn’t mean the EP is bad; it may be the best they’ve given us since their return.

Reznor lulls you into a safe space with opening track “Less Than.” Not as compelling as other songs, it’s the most accessible. It has catchy synth heavy music reminiscent of old school video games that makes you dance. The memorable hook doesn’t hurt either. The song gets a kick to the gut during the chorus when the music explodes in distortion. It’s reminiscent of Hesitation Marks sound and while it may not grab you at first, it grows on you over time. The mood shifts when we get to “The Lovers.” The music starts out quiet with an atmospheric air that slowly builds up around Reznor’s unnerving muted vocals. There’s a sense of unease with this song – the music creeps along as if waiting for something bad to happen. And lyrics like “Please don’t leave me here/I could stop it/Maybe I could stop it (if I wanted to)/But I’m not the one driving anymore” are haunting. It sounds like someone trying to regain control as they’re slowly losing it. It’s a great song that sets up the EP’s uneasy mood.

The stand out track on this EP is the chilling “This Isn’t the Place.” It opens on a fragile, haunting note with an eerie piano and synth that’s constantly swelling. It keeps you on edge letting you wonder where the song is headed next. It finally breaks when we get to Reznor’s fragile, broken falsetto vocals. He sounds scared as he sings “I thought we had more time” a harrowing reminder that life is short. Soon, the music swells once again drowning out Reznor and leaving you shaken. It’s a track that’s uncomfortable and unnerving, something NIN excels at.

Not Anymore” breaks up the atmospheric mood and gets back to the rougher side of NIN. The music starts out fuzzy and rough sounding before everything explodes and speeds up during the hook. This is more akin to their typical sound since it’s bursting with energy and aggression. While it’s not as unnerving as some of the other tracks, it’s the hardest one on the EP. It’s a frantic track that gets your heart pumping and your fists in the air like every good NIN song should.

The final track “The Background World” gets into the ugliness Reznor wanted to tap into. Clocking in at 11 minutes, the first half of the track has an electronic soundscape steadily building up to something heavier and darker. The last seven minutes are filled with an electronic loop that gets more distorted and garbled as time goes on. Everything gets more broken up until you can’t recognize the music anymore. It’s a compelling, yet uncomfortable experience. It’s easy to stop the song before it reaches this part, but it’d sound incomplete without it. Somehow Reznor managed to make this wall of noise an integral part of the song rather than unnecessary garbage to fill up the record.

Add Violence is a moody, atmospheric experience that shows Reznor can still make compelling music this late in his career. Whereas the previous EP sounded like blind fury and aggression that didn’t leave a lasting impression, this EP successfully mixes the old and the new. It’s a record to get lost in and once you come out, you’re left shaken. Reznor succeeds in giving us music that’s uncomfortable, which is where NIN shines. It’s clear that NIN is working up to something bigger and with this release. We’ll be waiting eagerly to see what it is.

Not the Actual Events EP – Nine Inch Nails

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 7/10

When Trent Reznor announced last year that we would indeed get new Nine Inch Nails music, I was ecstatic. Throughout the year, Reznor shot down any rumors of new NIN material. After months of speculation, he finally gave us new music. It’s not a new album, but it’s a taste of what’s to come. But rather than being a release that displays his best work, it’s more like something to shut up NIN fans and let Reznor work in peace.

Though trying not to make comparisons, the opening track “Branches/Bones” sounds like a leftover from Hesitation Marks. It’s brief, but the upbeat rock oriented music is similar to material from Reznor’s previous album. It kicks off the EP with a rush of energy thanks to the non-stop guitar riff that plows through the song. The music is loud and jarring sounding like it’s being played through blown out speakers. The track is decent at best, but it’s not that notable. At least it’s decent at kicking off the EP.

All the songs are solid, but very few of them stay with you afterward. “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” are good, but don’t grab you by the throat and pummel you like other NIN tracks. The only song that stands out is the eerie “Dear World.” Whether it’s the synth groove or the creepy opening vocals with Reznor singing “Yes, everyone seems to be asleep” this was the only song I actually remembered from the EP. The song has dark undertones as if something horrible is about to happen. Reznor’s monotone manner and the cold, robotic music makes it seem like something from an 80s dystopian film. There’s also a hypnotic air to it. The way Reznor speaks quietly seems like he’s trying to put you under a spell. It’s one of the coolest and unnerving tracks on the EP.

One thing the EP excels at is creating this dark, claustrophobic feeling. Songs like “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” have gritty music that puts you on edge. The former has a slow droning drumbeat as if ushering in some unforeseeable doom. And the way Reznor’s wails after the chorus gives it a haunting atmosphere. Everything in the song sounds so foreboding. The latter song has quiet vocals as if Reznor’s on the verge of breaking. Then chaos unleashes during the chorus when everything clashes together for a destructive mood.

The closing track “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” continues the musical trend of impending doom. With the booming, fuzzy music it sounds like the end of days is coming. Just like with the rest of the EP, the music is the high point of the song. It instantly draws you in. The singing and the lyrics are where things get weird. The chorus of “break through the surface and” is fine on its own, but for the verses, Reznor does this weird spoken word style. Instead of being smooth, it sounds like a random rant. His flow goes against the music making it disjointed and off-putting. Near the end, the music and singing clash together creating a jarring wall of noise. It’s another solid song but doesn’t really hit that sweet spot for NIN fans.

Reznor’s always been a master of electronic music and it’s no different on this release. Each track has gripping music and is a mix of cool grooves with cold, metallic sounding electronic soundscapes. It’s the highlight of the EP. The same can’t be said for the lyrics which are forgettable. In his time, Reznor has crafted some of the most anguished filled, aching, and heartbreaking songs. Little of that is on display here. The lyrics seem meaningless and difficult to pinpoint what he’s trying to get across. Lines like “Still can make out pieces with the opening sewed shut/Yeah, parts of me are slowing down, time is speeding up/Spiders crawling everywhere, infected Japanese” (“Branches/Bones”) come off as forced. As if he’s trying too hard to be poignant and unnerving. They’re not as engaging or thoughtful as they are on past NIN releases. Hell, even the lyrics on Hesitation Marks are better. This makes it seem like Reznor rushed out this release to stop fans from asking about new NIN music.

The EP is solid, but does it really jump out at you? No. The songs don’t punch you in the gut like we expect from NIN. If anything, they’re fairly decent rock songs with some electronic elements. The EP isn’t terrible, but it’s far from Reznor’s best. There are bits and pieces of past NIN releases in the song, like elements of The Fragile, but few of them leave an impression. You’ll find yourself struggling to remember most of the songs after listening to it a few times. Very little about it is notable and there’s little to say about it. The strongest point is the music, but the lyrics fail to be engaging. For fans longing for a NIN release, this isn’t going to satisfy them for long. Still, it does make me excited for what NIN has in store for us. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long for more new music.

Mini Music Movie Review: Downloaded (2013)

By now most people know the Napster story: people shared music for free, Metallica whined about it, and it got shut down. But this documentary goes deeper into the story of the infamous company, how it got started, and what lead to its downfall. And what you learn is how the media only provided the surface of the tale. There were so many more details and arguments most of the public didn’t get to see. They were concerned with setting up a villain and a hero. Of course, Napster was the villain. This film provides information from the creator, Shawn Fanning, people who were part of the company and lawsuit. What’s great about it is it presents all sides of the story and never feels like it’s trying to convince you Napster good, record companies bad.

Whether you think Napster’s instincts were good or bad the documentary gives the back story about how it started and what its original intentions were. While so many who were against the company felt it was all about getting music for free, the creators felt it was about creating a sense of community and sharing cool music with others who were passionate about it, similar to the views about pirating today. It was just two college kids who were savvy enough to create the program.

Not only are the main players in the rise and fall of Napster interviewed, there’s tons of news footage from the late 90s talking about the controversy. The best clips feature Trent Reznor, Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Spice Girls sharing their thoughts about Napster. The best part of course when Metallica comes into the story. It’s interesting to hear the different opinions on the software. Some thought it meant the death of music industry (though it wasn’t) while others thought it was a great way to get their music spreading. Depending on your stance on file sharing some of the arguments made against Napster are fucking hilarious and make it clear a lot of it was a generation of people not understanding the technology. There is also courtroom footage from the initial hearings where you can hear the final nail in the coffin.

Throughout you actually feel pretty bad for Fanning. Just imagine the amount of stress he was under when the RIAA started knocking and at only 19 years old. And you thought worrying about final term papers was a nightmare. A bit of this felt a bit manipulated since there was a random section providing Fanning’s not so perfect family background. It didn’t really fit into the story of Napster. This is more about the company, not a bio about those who created it. It’s even a bit more perplexing since none of the others involved received any of the same treatment. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that you feel pretty bad for him in the end.

It’s a captivating look at one of the most controversial moments of the 90s. For some viewers it’ll be a nostalgia ride. For others it’ll be at music history. One thing you will come away with is how Napster made way for pirating, which is facing similar backlash. Funny, how some things never change.

Playlist: On The Flip Side

The b-side can be a wonderful thing. Though some of the results are a little harrowing, often times it’s the flip side is more successful than the single. Something about not having the pressure of making a hit single or pleasing radio stations invites artists to experiment and lets loose, which leaves us with some amazing songs.  There was no way I could cover all of the best or notable b-sides in this playlist, so these are just a handful of tracks from some of my favorite artists. So sit back, push play, and get lost in the whimsical world of the b-side.

“Dangerous” – Depeche Mode

This b-side to the already steamy “Personal Jesus” is one of the band’s sexiest songs. It doesn’t have anything to do with the content, rather it’s all about the sound. The hard electro beat and Dave Gahan’s smooth baritone vocals just makes the whole thing sound sexy as hell. Something about it puts a twist in your spine and gives you goosebumps. It even sounds a bit dangerous, especially with the slinking rhythm. In terms of style, the song has the same dark, cold vibe that took over the Violator album. Most would say “Happiest Girl” is the band’s best b-side and while it is good, it’s this gem that’s always been my favorite.

“10:15 Saturday Night” – The Cure

The Cure is one of those bands with a ton of amazing b-sides. I actually made a list of ten of my favorites a while ago. Since that list has all my favorites, here’s another stellar b-side from the band I didn’t talk about. This song features the unmistakable cry of Robert Smith and the “drip, drip, drip” line that pounds into your head. It was this song that convinced Chris Parry to sign the band to his newly formed label Fiction. And though it was the b-side to “Killing an Arab” you could still find it on their debut album. Still, you gotta give credit to the track that started the long and wonderful history of The Cure.

“Pink Ego Box” – Muse

Muse is another band with an insane amount of great b-sides, which is why I also made a list of favorites. While this b-side to “Muscle Museum” didn’t make the cut, it’s still one of their better tracks. It has a pretty simple beat and guitar riff while a young Matt Bellamy wails on about online relationships. The song doesn’t get intense until the end when the rough guitars start screaming along with Bellamy who yells “You turn me on” repeatedly. There’s actually an earlier version of this song  under the name “Instant Messenger” that had an AOL clip saying “You’ve got post.” It had to be removed for copyright reasons, so the band renamed the song. The second title is way more intriguing anyway.

“Into the Groove” – Madonna

This song was originally the b-side to the Madonna single “Angel.” Only later when it was featured on the soundtrack to her film Desperately Seeking Susan was it released as a stand alone single. Either way this is still one of Madonna’s best songs. It celebrates and emulates the club scene she was so fond of in her early years. With the high energy and the blazing synth, you can’t help but get up and dance whenever it comes on. It’s become a fan favorite over the years and is a track Madonna rarely leaves out of her setlist. The song has been remixed, reworked, and reimagined since it was first released, but nothing beats the original that helped make Madonna a megastar.

“Get Down Make Love” – Nine Inch Nails

There are more remixes than b-sides in the NIN catalog, but during the Pretty Hate Machine era, Trent Reznor and company did an industrial cover of this Queen song for the b-side of “Sin.” Whereas the original tries to be sensual and sexy, this version is nothing but raw, harsh, and creepy. The song has all the pulsing synth and electronic that makes NIN songs distinctive and it opens with a odd sample of a doctor asking about a patient’s sexual history. Moaning can be heard throughout the track and if you listen close enough you can hear the actual Queen version albeit played backwards. The experience is weird and eerie, but when you look at songs like “Closer” did we really expect Reznor to treat love and sex nicely?

“Tonight We Murder” – Ministry

Some of the most terrifying and heaviest music comes from Ministry and this song fits both those labels. Released as the b-side to “Stigmata” this track sounds like pure hell. Al Jourgensen cackles, wails, and screams like he’s being tortured while the intense music thumps and grinds to the beat. Everything keeps getting more brutal as Jourgensen steadily loses control as he’s singing. The best is the hook where he sounds evil when he repeats “tonight we murder/tonight we murder.” It actually sounds very similar to Thrill Kill Kult‘s early material, which is no surprise since the two previously worked together.

“Again” – HIM

This melancholy track first appeared as the b-side to “In Joy and Sorrow,” but was later released on a limited edition of Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights. The track is pretty standard for the band: dirty guitars, Ville Valo’s soaring sweet vocals, and Gothic inspired lyrics. This is yet another song that seems to explore the realm of love and death like most of their material. It easily would’ve fit on their third album. The song was later featured in the film Haggard, which was directed by Bam Margera (remember him?) This doesn’t come as a surprise since Bam was obssesed with the band and eventually became friends with Valo.

“Carry Me In” – Cage the Elephant

Cage the Elephant is a current band I know of that actively releases b-sides. All of them are pretty solid, but one of the best is this b-side to their 2011 single “Shake Me Down.” Singer Matt Shultz sounds weary and weakened as he sings “Love/carry me in/held down by my words/and weight of my sins.” The music starts out kind of frantic especially the beginning, which kind of has this spaghetti Western vibe. Right when you think the song is over, everything slows down to a lull and Shultz continues to mumble his way through the rest of the song. What started out as kind of bright ends on a melancholy note.

“You’re so Vague” – Queens of the Stone Age

I originally wanted to go with “Born To Hula,” but it’s a re-recording of a Kyuss song, the band Josh Homme used to be in. So, I went with this Rated R b-side instead. Using a play on the Carly Simon single “You’re So Vain,” Homme uses his sweet, soothing vocals to sing cringing lyrics like “Green eyed boys/lick the razor blades/girl I think I love you/and the mess you made” and he sounds hypnotic while doing so. There’s even a cool twist on the hook where he sings “Baby you’re so vague/that you probably think this song ain’t about you.”  As usual with QOTSA songs, the music is fucking awesome with guitars that move at a dragging pace, but still manage to sound sexy as hell. Then again don’t most of their songs sound sultry?

“We Will Rock You” – Queen

Did you know that this massive Queen hit started out as a b-side? What’s now considered an anthem for every sporting event across the world was originally the flip side to the equally popular “We Are the Champions.” Its simple stomp clapping beat, Freddie Mercury’s passionate vocal delivery, and Brain May’s searing guitar solo at the end are what makes the song unforgettable. It’s a timeless track and definitely among the band’s best. Both songs were actually written after one show during their 1977 tour when the band walked off stage and the crowd clapped and sand “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to them. Let’s just try to forget the horrible cover versions.

“Sick of Me” – Green Day

This b-side to “Hitchin’ a Ride” finds the classic snotty Green Day attitude as Billie Joe laments a dying a relationship. Though it’s a good song, it’s pretty similar to their other tracks from this time: simple three chord rock with a catchy hook. Still, there are some great bratty and funny lyrics like “Like a dog/that just pissed in your barbecue/sick of me.” This couple tries to make it work, but by the end Billie admits “I’m sick of you too.” Since it follows the winning Green Day formula, it should appeal to most fans. The track was later released on b-side compilation album Shenanigans.

“Fingers and Toes” – Biffy Clyro

If there’s one current band dedicated to the art of the b-side it’s Biffy Clyro. For just about all of their albums, they’ve released a companion b-side LP. They have so many it was hard to pick just one, so I went with on my favorites from their last release Similarities. What instantly catches your attention is the opening line “ladies ask why I’ve got/no fingers and toes.” From there the music kicks up and gets pretty intense, but what’s great about this is they do it without a mass amount of distortion. And even though the music has amped up singer Simon Neil’s voice remain calm throughout. Biffy is definitely one of those bands where their b-sides are just as good, sometimes even better, than the a-sides.

“Throw Them to the Lions” – Siouxsie and the Banshees

Released on the flip side to “Dazzle,” this b-side is the exact opposite of the single. Whereas the a-side is very upbeat and almost whimsical, this one greets the listener with a minute of noise and distortion before Siouxsie Sioux’s soothing voice comes on. Everything about the track is pretty chaotic and all over the place. The music is really dirty, harsh, and intense making it a stand out track. The song also manages to be catchy with Sioux’s warrior cry of “hey/hey/hey” midway through. Sioux and crew have quite a few good b-sides, but this one has always been my favorite.

“Aneurysm” – Nirvana

Though the song did eventually see a wider release both on Incesticide and From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, this Nirvana track was originally released as the b-side to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” From Kurt Cobain growling “Come on over/and do the twist” to the whirring guitar riff that opens the song, it has become one of the best tracks in the band’s entire catalog. The song has several references to Cobain’s ex-girlfriend Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill along with poking fun at pop music conventions and even his own drug use, which was nothing but a rumor at the time. The best part comes when Cobain lets loose a ragged and weary howl right before the end. It shows how Cobain knew how to transfer a lot his pain into kick ass songs.

There are a ton of b-sides I missed, so let me know which one is your favorite in the comments!

Fixed EP – Nine Inch Nails

Release Year: 1992

Rating: 8/10

Trent Reznor is a beast of a musician who does everything from songwriting, playing various instruments, composing, and even producing. Since the early days of NIN, he’s handed over his songs to others to see what they do with the material. Now, it’s not surprising to find a remix album after the release of a NIN studio album. Though it’s technically an EP, the Broken release got the remix treatment in 1992. This release takes “Wish,” “Last,” “Gave Up,” and “Happiness in Slavery” and turns them inside out to the point of being difficult to identify.

There are two versions of “Wish,” both by J.T. Thrilwell, but first one is better than “Fist Fuck.” What’s so prominent about the first version is the heavy, tribal like percussion that plays throughout the entire track. The latter version has the same drumming, but since it focuses on distorted Timothy Leary samples and squeaky noises, it’s very repetitive and gets old very fast. The former remix features a lot of elements from the original song, but the mix sounds rough like it’s being played out of blown out speakers. Both of them aren’t bad and have their strong points, but out of the two remixes the first one is better and is interesting enough to listen to this along with the original.

There are also two version of “Happiness in Slavery” and both remixes are pretty solid. The remix by Reznor, Chris Vrenna, and P.K. has an electronic influence. With the various synth and techno inspired riffs it plays like the tracks from NIN’s debut LP. It has a mechanical vibe with lots of weird noises swirling around catching your attention. Like other mixes on the EP, this has very little traces of the original, but since everything else is sonically intriguing, it doesn’t really bother you. With how aggressive, brutal, fuzzy, and staticy it is, it sounds similar to Ministry’s best material. The “Screaming Slave” version of the song is trippy, confusing, and really disorienting. It sounds like fifty things are playing at once, making it difficult to figure what’s going on. Everything keeps shifting, steadily getting out of control as the song goes on. To amp up its grittiness, it also features clips of Bob Flanagan, who was in the video, being tortured by the mechanical device featured in the video. It’s an unnerving eight minutes you may not want to hear again.

Throw This Away,” mixed by Reznor, Vrenna, and Butch Vig, is the most difficult song to identify on the release. Not only is it because the music sounds nothing like the songs on Broken, it’s a mix of the tracks “Last” and “Suck.” The vibe starts out slow and methodical, with high pitched squelching noises drowning underwater. As this continues, bits of Reznor whispering “and I want you to throw me away” can be heard making it sound menacing and disturbing. Before the song ends, the pace abruptly changes and is suddenly upbeat with screeching guitars that sound like they’re dying. “Gave Up,” remixed by Coil with Danny Hyde, is disjointed in the beginning, which is what Reznor was originally going for. After that the pace picks up turning into an industrial club mix of the song. The vocals are choppy to the point you can’t make out what Reznor is saying. It sounds good, but compared to the other remix this one seems pretty simple.

This is only the first of many remix albums Reznor would release during his career. While initially I wasn’t a big fan of this EP, now I have a new found appreciation for it. Though many of the songs have two different versions, they are often diverse enough to not be dull. While some of the mixes sound like simple club versions, some of them completely flip the script and turn them into something new, disturbing, and scary, which doesn’t seem possible since it is the Broken EP we’re talking about. If anything it shows how Reznor isn’t afraid to let others handle his precious music.