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What to Make Of Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV

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Everyone has a band or singer-songwriter who spans a generation with them; the artist whose career runs through peaks and valleys along with your life. For me, that artist has been Nine Inch Nails.

I discovered the music of NIN as a sophomore in high school in 1991. A girl I was dating gave me a cassette copy of their first album Pretty Hate Machine, and I was immediately hooked. After 1992's Broken was released, I have followed bandleader and production guru Trent Reznor's career closely ever since. Sure, there have been a couple speed bumps along the way (i.e. songs like "The Perfect Drug" or "Deep"), but NIN's hard edged soundscape has always appealed to me.

Outside of the multi-layered textures, pulsing synths, and arrogant guitar power chords that Reznor has woven through his work, I've also enjoyed his frequently aggressive and angst ridden lyrics and breathy vocal delivery. So when Reznor released Ghosts I-IV, an album comprised of 36 untitled instrumentals, I was not sure what to make of it at first. I knew I had enjoyed many previous NIN instrumentals like “The Mark Has Been Made” and “La Mer” from The Fragile, or "A Warm Place” from The Downward Spiral— but nearly two hours without a single vocal? It seemed like a recipe for disaster when mixed with an experimental release format via the web only.

Luckily, despite the NIN website crashing on the first day of release, Ghosts I-IV was considered a success by most critics and fans, despite not being as groundbreaking as some of his previous records. My belief on Ghosts is that Reznor didn't want to chance releasing his "vocal-included" material in the event that this experiment was not as profitable as hoped. However, now that it has been, I expect that in the upcoming months, he will release an EP with vocal tracks. Of course, that is purely speculative from a longtime fan. Forgive my optimism.

More importantly, Reznor had a second experiment in mind for Ghosts outside of the release structure. NIN teamed up with YouTube to host a "film festival" where fans could submit their own visual representations of the music of Ghosts. The films will be reviewed by a team (including Trent) and the "exceptional" ones will be prominently displayed as a YouTube/NIN collaborative "film festival". As Reznor states, "This isn't a contest and you don't win elaborate prizes – it's meant to be an experiment in collaboration and a chance for us to interact beyond the typical one-way artist-to-fan relationship." The YouTube page detailing all this can be found here.

Thus, while I am not able to create quality video or anime for the film festival, I did have an opinion that all of the tracks of Ghosts segment into two distinct mixes. Each mix sonically illustrates a character as listed below:

1. Ambicaspian: the musical portrait of a suburban woman who drowned in a lake while swimming alone. Her ghost forever trapped in the lake's surroundings, she does everything within her powers to keep others from the same fate. No one has drowned there since.

Track listing:
02 Ghosts I
05 Ghosts I
30 Ghosts IV
28 Ghosts IV
25 Ghosts III
34 Ghosts IV
21 Ghosts III
36 Ghosts IV
18 Ghosts II
01 Ghosts I
17 Ghosts II
22 Ghosts III
13 Ghosts II
11 Ghosts II
09 Ghosts I
15 Ghosts II
06 Ghosts I

2. Geistfearian: the musical portrait of an urban man who was double-crossed and poisoned by his best friend and his wife, who were having an affair. His ghost forever trapped in the city, he roams the street, toppling scaffolding and breaking pipes in the ground. His pain is so severe that he can never rest.

Track listing:
03 Ghosts I
24 Ghosts III
16 Ghosts II
26 Ghosts III
14 Ghosts II
29 Ghosts IV
07 Ghosts I
32 Ghosts IV
23 Ghosts III
27 Ghosts III
31 Ghosts IV
12 Ghosts II
20 Ghosts III
08 Ghosts I
33 Ghosts IV
19 Ghosts III
35 Ghosts IV
04 Ghosts I
10 Ghosts II

In closing, I can only hope that Nine Inch Nails continues to experiment with music and media, a trait not often found in an artist who has already spanned a generation. Cheers.

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About Mark Sahm

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    geezuz mr. sahm, you just have too many fine ideas swimming around in that head.

    good stuff.

  • charlie

    Cool. I’ll have to try listening to this album in your tracklisting. Should be an interesting experience. Thanks for this.

  • http://www.magicjunk.com/radio Mark Sahm

    Thanks for the kudos, gentlemen. A couple things I should add:

    (1) Both mixes are about 55 minutes long
    and
    (2) Based on the character the mix represents, they have a decidedly different overall feel. Ambicaspian is more of the mellow piano and ambient material, while Geistfearian is the more aggressive and hard rock/electronica feel.

  • stude

    who said it should be anime?

  • http://www.magicjunkradio.com Mark Sahm

    Anime is just one option that you could submit for the NIN film festival.

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