Nine Inch Nails : Add Violence EP

Say what you will about Trent Reznor, but the guy over the last four years has been in constant creative motion. Nine Inch Nails’ 2013 return with Hesitation Marks was met with equal parts cheers and jeers. Cheers for a guy coming out of a 4 year NIN shutdown to a solid return to form. Jeers for folks that felt he was softening and repeating old motifs. Me? I liked the album. He never came across to me as some poet laureate, so I could forgive the average in the lyrics department. But his compositional, arranging, and studio skills were as tight as ever. From there he scores three films with Atticus Ross(Gone Girl(2014), Before The Flood(2016), Patriot’s Day(2016)), becomes some mogul/music wizard dujour at Beats and helped curate Apple Music, and at the end of 2016 he and Ross put out the NIN EP Not The Actual Events. The latter was released with the promise of two more EPs to follow later in 2017, making it a trilogy of sorts. That EP was promising, with some biting NIN aggression and experimental twists and turns that while wasn’t mind blowing was a welcome addition to the NIN discography(while wetting the appetites of NIN fans everywhere.)

We’re in the middle of 2017 and that second EP has arrived. Add Violence dials down the angst and turns up the oscillation a bit. It feels better conceived and fluid than its predecessor, while still retaining the wily spirit of classic NIN.

Opening track “Less Than” gets all early 80s bouncy synth with the help of some catchy keyboard lines and synsonic-sounding drums. It’s like Reznor dropped the needle on Black Celebration and Power, Corruption & Lies and got heavy-handed with the Kahlua he was pouring into his protein shakes. This is the loosest and most fun NIN has sounded since Year Zero. “The Lovers” is the best track on here. It’s dark, brooding, and yes, sexy. Jittery rhythms, Pong-like synth notes, and menacing piano zig zag through the mix as Reznor turns up the longing in his vocal spots. This track feels like the very best of Reznor and Ross’ creative power. It builds; ascending then descending like a menacing tower on the horizon. I imagine playing Tetris on a grainy black and white TV with this as the soundtrack. Odd, but fitting. “This Isn’t The Place” has an electronic swing to it. It’s decent, but seems to meander a bit too long. “Not Anymore” sounds like a cross between Suicide and the Art of Noise, but with Reznor ad-libbing lyrics over a distorted bass line. The song goes into a frenzied explosion of fuzz in the chorus. “The Background World” moves along for nearly 12 minutes. First opening with a smooth, familiar groove that you easily fall into. Soon enough you notice something becomes slightly off. A skip in the song. As the track moves along it slowly falls into a deep distortion as that skip becomes more prominent. The track falls into an abyss of white noise before falling into some other dimension.

Add Violence resonates more than its predecessor. It feels more cohesive, like Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross sat down and mapped out some songs with a sonic thru-line. They kept it more of a blippy, electronic affair with a healthy dose of their rich atmosphere. The result is a sweet shot of electronic urgency.

7.9 out of 10

 

 

New Track : Papir’s “V.I” Is As Epic As It Gets

So I’ve heard the new Papir record V that is being released on August 18th, 2017. I’ve swam in its epic daydreams put to music. I have let the psychedelic thunder created by the Danish trio knock my eardrums around and I’ve contemplated the universe and our place in it as the 7 epic tracks spin over the course of 90+ minutes(94 minutes to be exact) and I’m here to say that…I’ll have much more to say very soon.

For now I will leave you with a few off the cuff remarks about the first track entitled “V.I”.

It’s nearly 13 minutes of atmospheric beauty. It never becomes bombastic, crashing waves that pummel the soul. It’s more like an endless horizon that continuously grows into something more far reaching and beautiful. Nicklas Sørensen, Christoffer Brøchmann Christensen, and Christian Becher Clausen are no strangers to epic album experiences. Each time out with them their albums, including Stundum, III, and IV, Papir extend their sonic reach even further into the great, existential divide. With the release of V, and in particular “V.I” they seem to have topped even their very best.

Sørensen puts his guitar wizardry to exquisite work, creating almost jazz-toned guitar lines. They don’t jump out of the speakers and slap you into submission, more so they beckon you into the warm and sunny vibe of the track. With a rhythm section like Christoffer Brøchmann Christensen and Christian Becher Clausen, Sørensen has the foundation to get absolutely orbital with his guitar approach, though things remain more grounded on “V.I”. There’s an airy, organic vibe here that feels mildly psychedelic, mildly post-rock, but very much all Papir.

Head over to The Obelisk and check out track, and read an amazing review of V by JJ Koczan, aka H.P. Taskmaster. A full review right here at JHubner73 will be coming soon. Until then, head over to Stickman Records and preorder the double vinyl of V and make your soul happy.

Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile : Deviations 1

So right off the bat it must be said that this very unique version of Trent Reznor’s 1999 masterpiece ode to mental breakdown and substance abuse is for a very limited number of Nine Inch Nails fans. Of those fans there’s two kinds of fans that will want this: the hardcore completists and the soundtrack fans. The casual window shoppers, the mild interest guys and gals, and that one guy that never “got it” after Pretty Hate Machine need not apply. This one isn’t for you. Thanks for stopping by, though. Sure, take a beer with you. See you later…

Okay, now that we’re alone let’s talk about The Fragile : Deviations 1.

So back in December, along with the release of Not The Actual Events, it was announced that a definitive version of Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile was being released. It was meticulously remastered by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. As a huge fan of The Fragile I was pretty excited about this prospect. As well as the original album, there was also an oddity announced in The Fragile : Deviations 1. It’s an instrumental version of the 1999 record. The album was completely remixed and remastered as instrumental fare. According to NIN.com:

A very special limited edition of The Fragile is now available for preorder in the NIN store. This unique version of NIN’s classic record was created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and features 37 instrumental, alternate and unreleased tracks, many of which have never been heard before anywhere.”

Reznor explains, ‘The Fragile occupies a very interesting and intimate place in my heart. I was going through a turbulent time in my life when making it and revisiting it has become a form of therapy for me. As an experiment, I removed all the vocals from the record and found it became a truly changed experience that worked on a different yet compelling level. The Fragile: Deviations 1 represents Atticus and I embellishing the original record with a number of tracks from those sessions we didn’t use before. The result paints a complimentary but different picture we wanted to share.

Not being what I’d call a hardcore NIN fan, but also not a mild occasional listener, I was intrigued by the prospect of an instrumental version of the first NIN record I sort of really got into. Two years prior to The Fragile I’d totally fallen for NINs “The Perfect Drug” off David Lynch’s Lost Highway soundtrack, so in 1999 I was ready to fall for a NIN record. After a day or two of mulling it over in December I decided to throw caution to the wind and I preordered this behemoth of a set(it’s 4 LPs at $80.)

According to their website it was supposed to ship in April of 2017. April came and went. As did May and June. I found myself going back to old emails to make sure I hadn’t dreamt preordering this damn record. I did indeed order this thing. Finally in July I’d gotten a confirmation email that this record was shipping and a week later a heavy, flat, square box showed up on the front porch.

It arrived.

I’ve been spinning this record on and off for the last couple weeks. I stand by my first statement that this is something of a completist-only kind of album. Most folks aren’t going to fall head over heals for this album. No vocals, it’s an album that pushes the wall of sonics to the forefront. It’s gone from an epic ode to self hate and utter emotional devastation to something that transcends that pain and turns it into something far different from its origins. It doesn’t feel angry and pained anymore.

The Fragile : Deviations 1 feels like something of a rebirth of the original album.

This is a completist kind of album, but it’s also for those fans of the Reznor/Ross film scores. First, the music is still there. It’s brighter, louder, and more in focus. The guitars hum with a vibrancy. Without the vocals your attention is pushed towards the amazing job Reznor and Ross did on engineering this thing. It really does sound like a score to some lost dystopian film. Something like Wim Wenders doing a post-apocalyptic arthouse epic. Paris, Texas-meets-The Road Warrior. Listening to these songs with new ears you really do notice just how cinematic Reznor’s arranging truly was, even back in 1999. He was definitely working towards becoming that film composer he’s become. With Trent Reznor making Atticus Ross a permanent member of NIN only goes to show just how important that musical partnership has become. Sure, he was in How To Destroy Angels with Reznor and Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig, but for him to be a permanent member of NIN is something else. It was always just Reznor writing and recording in the studio, with a band assembled for gigs. Having Ross as a permanent member truly shows the importance of that partnership.

I feel I’m rambling here. This record is a masterpiece to my ears. It’s one I happily add to the collection of Reznor/Ross collaborations. I feel that their scores for The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Before The Flood, and Patriot’s Day are modern classics. They are all unique in their own way, but carry with each of them that Reznor/Ross DNA strand that gives them all this cohesive, arthouse charm. I would put The Fragile : Deviations 1 in the same category as their film scores. With unreleased tracks, alternate takes, and extended versions of songs this album feels like it’s own musical beast. It’s almost like the score to the making of a concept album about a guy’s fall into madness. It’s very meta if you think about it.

This one is definitely worth your time if you’re willing to commit to the ride. If you’re looking for “Head Like A Hole”, you should look elsewhere.

9. 2 out of 10

Stranger Things Season 2 : A Few Thoughts

I don’t normally geek out about a TV show. There’s a few shows on some select networks that give me hope for the future of the entertainment. Shows that seem to be attempting to erase years of horrible sitcoms and questionable melodramas, and that makes me happy. A few shows that I have loved over the last few years are as follows: Breaking Bad, The Americans, Sons Of Anarchy, Burn Notice, Mr. Robot, Better Call Saul, Ash Vs Evil Dead, and The Good Wife(yes, The Good Wife. Wanna make something of it, pal?) Anyways, I’m not much of a TV watcher. I haven’t paid for cable or satellite service since 2009. I stream on a Roku, baby. Netflix, Amazon Prime…that’s where its at for me. Quite a few of those shows I mentioned were Netflix or Amazon Prime binges. I bought Mr. Robot and Better Call Saul off Amazon. Those shows are that good in my opinion that I couldn’t wait for DVD or when they were available for streaming. A good show should come off like an amazing film. A seamless stream of story, character, emotional investment, beautifully shot, and wanting to stick it out with these characters for the long haul.

Amazon has shows like Transparent, Man In The High Castle, Patriot, and I Love Dick that are pushing art and television to new heights. Netflix wins it, though. The Marvel shows, House Of Cards, GLOW, Orange Is The New Black, Bloodline, The Crown, Master of None, Black Mirror, The OA, and 13 Reasons Why are solid outings and some even feel like masterpieces(I’m looking at you Master of None, The Crown, and Luke Cage.)

And then there’s Stranger Things.

The show that came from out of nowhere. It was the zeitgeist of TV watching in 2016. My son and I watched it on a whim last summer and ended up finishing it over the course of a Friday and Saturday. It hit all the notes for me, personally. It was horror, sci-fi, 80s kids adventure, suspense, mystery, and it sported a hell of a score. It took me back to my own childhood in the early 80s. Kids playing D&D in the basement, riding dirt bikes through idyllic Midwestern suburbs, Eggos, The Clash,…I could go on and on. It also reminded me of movies like Goonies, Explorers, E.T., and films album creepy scientists doing creepy things to people(I’m thinking David Cronenberg films, but without all the gooey sex stuff.) Stranger Things was a nostalgia machine and a time machine, but in the best way possible.

Stranger Things Season 2 will soon be upon us in October, and from the trailer I’d say it’s gonna be even better. Take a look:

Ghostbusters, Dragon’s Lair, “Thriller”, Halloween, blood stains, Reagan/Bush ’84, gooey crap on trees, Will seeing the Upside Down leaking into our world, and the return of Eleven?? And of course that theme music? Color me giddy.

The elements are still there. Our favorite group of middle schoolers have returned and are jumping back in to danger and mischief. This show continues to look like one hell of an 80s movie cut up into episode lengths. More labs, more blinking lights, more ominous tests, and more of the Upside Down. I love these characters and I love that the Duffer brothers know the times and care about details.

For so long the 80s were a maligned era that was remembered for neon, pegged pants, and Reagan. There was much to love about the 80s. For me it was when I grew up. Star Wars, Stephen Spielberg, GI Joe, Transformers, and then 80s hair metal. I’ve come to terms with most of it and now have a deep admiration for it all(maybe not the pegged pants, but still.) Stranger Things keeps those memories in the present for me. It also is quality creepy sci fi, and that’s a big bonus in my eyes.

Come on, October.

 

Joel Jerome : Cosmic Bear Jamboree

Listening to Joel Jerome’s new album you can’t help but get swept up in the guy’s joy for music making. There’s a feeling of a guy getting completely lost in his own little musical world. Jerome is an L.A.-based producer who’s studio has welcomed some of indie rock’s most up-and-coming artists. He’s worked hand-in-hand with labels like Burger, Lollipop, and Manimal Records. This time, though, Jerome is working on himself. The result is Cosmic Bear Jamboree, a full-length that has enough lo-fi grit, AM-radio nostalgia, and Stones-y twang to satisfy the most ardent indie rock fan.

Upon first spinning Cosmic Bear Jamboree I’m reminded of another monster of the indie/lo-fi music scene. Jerome seems to have tapped into Kelly Stoltz territory here, writing tunes that evoke a 70s childhood, had or imagined. A time when Gilbert O’ Sullivan played along side the radio dial with The Raspberries and David Bowie. He’s also vibing artists like Ty Segall(“Complicated Man”), Dr. Dog(“Cosmic Dancer”), Jim Noir(“I Was On Acid”), and even touches of Neil Young(“I Don’t Want To Die”).

But that’s not to say Jerome is just aping other artists. He’s not. He wears his influences proudly on his sleeve but puts them through a very unique southern California filter that’s equal parts sun-soaked and THC-enhanced. “You Are So Bad”, with its Bad Stone Phaser-flavored guitar opens the track with a space-y vibe which leads into an ethereal chorus that goes straight into the stratosphere. “Tell Me Things” shows off Jerome’s impressive guitar chops and a knack for twang-y, psychedelic pop that sounds baked in the southern L.A. sun for a bit. “Yr Love Is Weird” is an ode to burnout love that both sweet and disturbing. “Alcohol” gets pretty gritty with some nice garage rock guitar in the chorus, but at times it takes some serious “Light My Fire” flights of fancy which is a pleasant surprise.

In lesser hands this album may have come across trying too hard to hit all the right nostalgic notes. Fortunately, Joel Jerome has the chops and the perfectly aged vocal range that when you’re sitting there letting Cosmic Bear Jamboree wash over you it feels like you’ve discovered a lost classic. This could be the late summer/early fall record you’ve been looking for.

7. 5 out of 10

Persian Dervish Salad Surgery

Every year that we have a family vacation down in Brown County and get back with nature(in an air-conditioned cabin with game room and hot tub) I always try to bring one or two records back from our stay. On one of the days we head 25 minutes west to Bloomington where I put my family through a tortuous 45 minute visit to Landlocked Music. It’s tortuous for them, for me it’s heaven. When I’m at Landlocked I always try to bring home something I can’t find in a 45 minute drive from my house. Landlocked has the most amazing electronic/experimental/avante garde section I’ve seen in any brick and mortar. In years past I’ve brought home gems from Karlheinz Stockhausen, Klaus Schulze, Wire, and Tom Verlaine. In 2014 I brought home Terry Riley’s A Rainbow In Curved Air. This past June Landlocked had the brand new reissue of Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes. How could I say no to that? I couldn’t. 

So here’s the scene:

It’s 1971 in a warm Los Angeles music hall. There’s something in the air that hangs low. A smog of breath, heat, and re-purposed smoke that leaves the lungs of waiting listeners. Soon the looping and loping organ lines of avante composer Terry Riley make their way out into a crowd wanting to expand their minds, both musically and chemically. There’s a hypnotic quality to Terry Riley’s organ work. Phrases seem to repeat over and over, but if you listen closely you can tell there are small shifts in the music lines. The music feels like individual puzzle pieces that eventually create spots to fit into each other, right before your eyes.

So here’s the scene:

It’s 1972 in a warm Parisian music hall. There’s something in the air that hangs low. A smog of breath, heat, and re-purposed smoke that leaves the lungs of waiting listeners. Soon the looping and loping organ lines of avante composer Terry Riley make their way out into a crowd wanting to expand their minds, both musically and chemically. There’s a hypnotic quality to Terry Riley’s organ work. Phrases seem to repeat over and over, but if you listen closely you can tell there are small shifts in the music lines. The music feels like individual puzzle pieces that eventually create spots to fit into each other, right before your eyes.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Terry Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes.

I don’t think I can adequately describe this record. It’s improvised music done by the genius Terry Riley. One record was recorded in Los Angeles in 1971, while the other record was the same piece improvised again and significantly different in Paris in 1972. This is totally zone out music. You put it on, close your eyes, and try to transcend your surroundings. For some of my readers this may sound boring or tedious, and I understand that. But if you let the music work its magic you could possibly psychically work some stuff out.

Maybe.

I first came into contact with Terry Riley through his A Rainbow In Curved Air back in 2013 or early 2014. I’d discovered Steve Reich and was on the hunt for like-minded cats that went about creating music in a unique and heady way. I listened to A Rainbow In Curved Air an incredible amount of times. I eventually picked up a reissue of it the summer of 2014. I also found a first pressing of Riley’s In C, which influenced me to improvise a song with my Cambodia Highball partner entitled “In D” in the cold harsh winter of 2014.

Riley seemed(and still seems) like a guy that wanted more out of a piece of music than just the satisfaction of composing. He seemed to be searching for enlightenment through music. His performances were more like a gathering of tribes. He looked more like a Yogi than he did a beat generation music composer. Each successive music project got closer and closer to what he arrived at with Persian Surgery Dervishes. And what he got to was another state of mind. It’s a trance-inducing musical piece that improvises on organ(which is specially tuned to just intonation). It works to put you into a free-floating spot in your own little universe. I think it works in the same way Indian music does or Middle Eastern music. It serves a purpose to enlighten the listener, and in Riley’s case the creator as well.

This isn’t the record you’re going to throw on when company is over and you’re playing a few rounds of euchre. It’s also not one you put on when the kids have friends over as you’ll certainly scare them away by the trance-like sound that will emanate from the speakers. I think Terry Riley is an acquired taste, but he’s a taste I have certainly acquired. Bands as heavy as Om, Sunn O))), and Sleep have taken the simple ideas of transcendence through repetition that Riley perfected way back in the late 60s and early 70s to new, crushing heights. Terry Riley is in his 80s now and still playing live. I think there may be something to his spiritual style of improvisational composition. He connects with an audience on an existential level and gives that connection back through the organ. In these times I think we need all the help we can get in connecting back to the universe.  It’s a beautiful thing, really.

So is Persian Surgery Dervishes.

Radiohead : OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997-2017

I’m sure there’s some camps that would welcome this next statement, while others would have me shot for it: OK Computer was Radiohead’s last great rock and roll record. It’s not that they didn’t release great albums after it. While Kid A and Insomniac may not have moved me in quite the same way as OK Computer, I certainly grew to love them for what they were. And while others wrote King of Limbs off, I found it to be one of the most beautifully alien albums in recent years. But without a doubt, OK Computer was the last album Radiohead made where they sounded like a rock and roll band doing rock and roll things together in a studio. They broke from the shackles of the “Brit Pop” stigma and made an album that was equal parts Philip K. Dick and Can; Noam Chomsky and the Beatles. They took their noisy tendencies and melded them with their melodic ones and allowed Thom Yorke to put his paranoid, sci-fi nerd leanings to good use. It was a record of big concepts and grand sounds. As far as pivotal moments and rock and roll go, the release in 1997 of Radiohead’s OK Computer is a big one.

20 years on and the band have shape shifted into all sorts of musical beings. From electronic wizards to EDM booty shakers to solo artists to film scorers, Radiohead have dipped their toes in nearly every pool. There was a time 10 to 15 years ago where these Brits wanted to just walk away from that pivotal 1997 album, like it was staggering for them to even acknowledge it. But with the recent release of OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997-2017 it seems these fellas from Oxfordshire are cool with their paranoid past once again. With the album’s 20th anniversary upon us OK Computer has been remastered from the original analog tapes and also includes 8 b-sides from the era plus 3 previously released songs. The result is a classic album seen and heard through new eyes and ears. It’s a proper celebration of a 20th century classic, with some incredible extras. It’s never sounded better.

OK Computer is the first Radiohead album I ever bought. It was the summer of 1997 and my wife and I were spending our first summer in our newly built house. I was working and spending my evenings watching MTV 2. A video that I had become completely enamored with was Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”. The animation, the gentle acoustic, the explosions of buzzing guitars all came together into this whole new sound to my ears. I’d liked Pablo Honey some, and I loved The Bends‘ “Just” and “High and Dry”, but I never dropped monies for an album. “Paranoid Android” and OK Computer changed all that. That record turned me into a devout follower of Yorke, O’Brien, Selway, and the brothers’ Greenwood. Hearing it 20 years on it’s just as good, even revealing new sonic layers in its newly remastered form. The songs are still there. They’re just as brilliant as ever. If you were a fan before you’ll still be one. I can’t review this album and give you anymore insight that you haven’t already found and dissected. What I can review are the b-sides included.

I’ve been a fan since OK Computer, like I said before. But one thing I never spent time with were all the b-sides these guys dropped over the years. Much like Pavement, Radiohead had enough b-sides to put out two albums with every record release. These songs have seen the light of day in various forms over the years(special edition releases, live bootlegs, etc), but they’re now conveniently included with the record. The songs are great here. I think OK Computer is perfect the way it is and the right songs were chosen to flesh out this classic, but hearing songs like “Lull”, “Melatonin”, and “Polyethylene(Parts 1 & 2)” you get a glimpse of a band in transition. For the most part these b-sides float along that space between The Bends-era pop sheen with hints of what was to come. In a lot of ways, these tracks are as well known to the hardcore lot than the album tracks. They all live in this state of grace. Perfect examples of what was and what never will be again.

Me, I hear these tracks and I think just how much bands like Muse, Coldplay, and a plethora of other late-90s/early 2000s British bands benefited from Radiohead’s ascent into electro/experimental music wanderers. They left quite a few fans pining for some serious Brit pop and Chris Martin was happy to oblige. Still, none of those bands have come even close to writing their “Palo Alto” or “A Reminder” or “How I Made My Millions”. And the 3 unreleased tracks(until now), “I Promise”, “Man of War”, and “Lift”, will only solidify the band’s stature as one of the greatest pop bands to walk away from mainstream success and indulge their freaky, blippy artistic tendencies.

I couldn’t imagine OK Computer in any form other than how it was presented to us 20 years ago. It’s perfect from start to finish. The remastering only brings that fact into perfect, stellar focus. The unreleased tracks and b-sides are the indifferent sprinkles on top of the dystopian sundae known as OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997-2017.

9.6 out of 10