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Year Zero

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★★★★☆
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  • (“Year Zero” by Nine Inch Nails)

    I’m sure that by now you’ve been reading about the elaborate “viral marketing” scheme Trent Reznor has concocted for his new concept album, “Year Zero.” Numerous mysterious web sites with names like IAmTryingToBelieve and AnotherVersionOfTheTruth help tell the hyperlinked story of a future America (2022, now reset to just 0000) in which a Christian theocracy has seized power, setup a Draconian Department of Morality, keeping the nation in a perpetual state of war and fear, and is dumping mind control drugs into the water, etc. etc. ad nauseum. This is all very appealing if, say, you’re still crushed by “The X-Files” no longer being in production or obsessively haunt “Lost” related sites searching for clues. However, if you’re just a plain old music fan, you’ll tend to ignore the crypto-hype and just ask if this is an actual album worth losing part of your hearing to. Well, friends and neighbors, I’m happy to report that not only is this a great album, but it’s also NIN’s best music since The Downward Spiral way back in 1994.

    Don’t get me wrong, I liked The Fragile and With Teeth, but “Year Zero” returns Reznor’s work to the more experimental edginesss that gave “Spiral” such a spark of brilliance. Ignoring current trends in music, YZ often goes full throttle into left-field electronica. After an opening salvo of noisy rock (and BTW, most of the album is pretty noisy) with a heavy but raw drum sound, songs like “Vessel” and “Me, I’m Not” are a successful mashup of punk and Autechre-style glitch, while “Capital G” seems to be Reznor’s angry version of the U.K. grime scene. “Survivalism,” the first single, is in many ways classic NIN: gritty electro/metal/punk along the lines of older songs like “Mr. Self Destruct,” only with a more dingy, lo-fi element that makes it hurt that much better. The closing track, “zero-Sum,” is particularly amazing, a subdued anthem cut through with all manner of clicks, hiss and pops–think maybe of Tom Waits gone digital and you’re halfway there. The overall effect of the album is often jarring, but if you’re into the noisy likes of, say, Chrome, “Year Zero” is like taking a comforting acid bath.

    Oh yeah, and that whole concept album thing. The “story,” such as it is, never intrudes upon the music like rock operas of the past. There are no overtures or between-song skits. While there are definitely some moments of piano-laced beauty, the album is mostly straight ahead (but bleeding edge) electro rock. Reznor’s lyrical inspiration isn’t hard to decipher, even if he never utters the word “Bush.” Actually, it’s amazing that for such a horrible president, Dubya has inspired any number of strong political statements, bot direct (Green Day’s American Idiot) and indirect (My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade). Trent Reznor in particular might want to thank the man perssonally for inspiring the most vital and relevant album of his career. And they say irony is dead.

    Posted on December 24, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Thank you for not taking so damn long to put out another album since you last one. And thank you for a “return to form” (clich├ęd perhaps, but true in my estimation) albeit in a new direction. Not since The Downward Spiral have I enjoyed one of your albums so much. I have to admit that though I like With Teeth, I don’t love it, and it has not gotten a lot of play in my CD player. Well baby, that has change with Year Zero. Political and Social issues aside, it is a great concept for an album and a great sound. I actually like Capital G, contrary to another reviewers take, and it is the most “poppy” of the songs on this expansive album. I really love the sound textures that are explored, and the music itself really engages me. I would rank it up there with Downward Spiral and Pretty Hate Machine, my two favorite NIN albums, though it has a more “Broken” feel to it in places. It edges out The Fragile for my 3rd favorite, and it well ahead of With Teeth (sorry Trent).

    All in all, I like this new direction stylistically and musically. The lyrics are an improvement over With Teeth as well. Keep experimenting, you seem to find your muse that way. Superbly engineered, excellent audio quality. Bring on the sound collages and I look forward to hearing what follows. But for now, my ears are feasting…

    4 1/2 Stars …I’m hoping the best is yet to come.

    EDIT: Okay, I’ve been listening to YZ for over a week now and it is still a rewarding experience. Some may say it does not have the depth of former albums but to you I say, keep listening. I am finding new things to hear on every spin, and the songs are growing on me even more — getting under my skin. Truly a complete work, I journey through it then want to hit repeat to take the journey again. YZ also got me to throw With Teeth back in my CD player and I have to say that I am appreciating it more than I used to.

    While I found Year Zero almost immediately accessible, that by no means makes it simple and I am do discover new things with every listen. Don’t compare it to previous works and enjoy it for what it is.

    UPDATE (013108): I’ve had this album for a while now and it just keeps getting better with repeat listens. I discover something new in each song, some subtle variations that are revealed only after many spins. A good sound system helps too. This is far from being just noise — it is an expertly crafted sonic landscape. I am really looking forward to YZ Pt.2. Until then, if you like this, then check out Y34RZ3R0R3MIX3D / [CD/DVD Combo]

    Posted on December 24, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • I’m not one of those guys who says that the newest work from an artist is their best. Did I like “With Teeth”? Of course. Was it better than “The Fragile”? Not really. Ignoring personal taste, I think it’s fair to say that “The Downward Spiral” is the music-changing masterpiece of Nine Inch Nails. It was a fusion of the electronica of “Pretty Hate Machine” and the raw guitar of “Broken” and Reznor has done nothing like it since (unless you want to count the track “Burn” which came out shortly after “TDS”). “Year Zero” picks up sonically where “TDS” left off and politically where “With Teeth” left off. All of which is to say that I think this may be the best thing he’s ever done. Again, this is my personal taste of preferring a lot of electronic noise (I always wanted a whole album of material like “The Becoming” and boy, did I get it!), but the bigger proof may come from the fact that Reznor has never recorded or written anything as quickly as he has “Year Zero.” Anyone who understands a creative mind will understand that if it spews out of you and you don’t mess with it, that’s your subconscious working, which is where genius lives. It’s loud, it’s angry, and the future’s not bright. I can’t wait to hear what Part Two is like.

    Posted on December 24, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Don’t be fooled, “Year Zero” sounds nothing like previous Nine Inch Nails releases. Perhaps its because the whole album was constructed on a lap top music making program. Perhaps because Trent Reznor has evolved as a human being. Perhaps its because “Year Zero” is part of a bigger picture, a concept album that depicts a story set in a dystopian future where the government oversteps its boundries in a post apocalyptical cyberpunk world. Perhaps because the planets and stars were aligned at the perfect moment.
    Whatver the case may be, “Year Zero” sounds worlds apart from all of the previous Nine Inch Nails outings, and for the better. Yes, it sounds much different from “With Teeth”, a less than stellar, yet enjoyable album. “Year Zero” sounds nothing like “The Downward Spiral”, even though a select few are comparing them. And it certainly sounds nothing like “The Fragile”, NIN’s most versatile and complete recording.

    One thing that you must remember is that all previous Nine Inch Nails albums convey a vary dark world and very self-depricating lyrics, bi-polar depression rantings, sickness and healing.
    Unlike all of his previous albums, “Year Zero” features lyrics that have nothing to do with Trent Reznor’s problems. It is a concept album, and an awesome one at that.
    Maybe its because I am in love with anything cyberpunk, to which this album directly relates, in both sound and lyrics, that I find awesome. Or maybe its because Trent is evolving as an artist and as a human, shedding the depressing and darkness allowing for a more cohesive vision to protrude through. I don’t know.
    That is not to say that “The Downward Spiral” and “The Fragile” are not amazing projects, because they are. Personally I feel that “The Fragile” is the best album Nine Inch Nails has released, with “The Downward Spiral” coming in second. But there is something about “Year Zero” and its concept that is most intriguing.
    Evolution.
    Yes, the most amazing thing about this album is that Trent is not regurgitating the same ol’ thing again. “With Teeth” was the same ol’ stuff we have heard him sing a thousand times. That is why its not really all that amazing, we have heard it before.
    No, “Year Zero” features lyrics depicting a particular event or narration from a particular persons viewpoint within this grand story that Trent has created. And that makes “Year Zero” the best.

    People are going to draw major conclusions, stating that “Year Zero” is a direct relation to the present state of our world, with President Bush and the Patriot Act, the war….on and on.
    While I agree, the present state of anything is going to affect anyone creating art, it only served as a catalyst. Distopian cyberpunk stories have been around since the early 80’s, maybe even before that.
    I have always had a vision that Trent Reznor could conjure up a great story, and here it is. Well part of it. Rumor is, that this is part one, and there is possibly a movie too. I can only hope!

    Another thing that makes this album so monumentous, and it IS monumentous, is the lengths Trent went to hype this album up. The flash drives with leaked material and pure noise containing messages, secret messages on tour t-shirts, the web sites with all the little tidbits and back stories. Its a very clever marketing scheme, and a fun way to involve all of the fans in a little game of discovery, which it did. The internet was all buzzing over the sites and flash drives and hidden messages.

    OK, enough of all that, onto the album…
    “Year Zero” features music entirely displaced in the Nine Inch Nails catalogue. But at the same time it fits perfectly. The reason I say that it is displaced is that there are barely any guitars or screaming involved. Much more emphasis is placed on regular singing, and the music is comprised of Trip-Hop/electronic/noise. Break beats are melded with semi-industrial beats to form an awesome and original sound.
    Yes, I said Break Beats! There is a small tinge of influence from Hip-Hop/Trip Hop going on in the beats, along with Trent’s passion for Industrial drums.
    Ambient and other electronic sounds pervade each track. The best way I can describe it is that this is PURE lap top music in all its glory and greatness. What I would consider “futuristic” music.
    There are no definable “sadness” parts or “depressing” melodies to be found on “Year Zero”, a nice change. I cannot express how happy I am that Trent has decided to try something different. On the same note, Trent’s signature instrument, the piano, doesn’t come in until “Another Version of the Truth” (beautiful piano by the way, just beautiful), the third to the last track on the album!
    It is awesome to hear a Nine Inch Nails album that doesn’t overkill with guitars and screaming.
    Evolution, baby.
    Oh, “The Great Destroyer” probably features the most guitar work on the album. But compared to albums like “The Downward Spiral” and “The Fragile”, the guitar work is tamer than a Sonny and Cher song.
    By the way, “The Great Destroyer” features one of the finest “noise” freak outs I have ever heard.
    Like I said earlier, the whole album was comprised on a lap top computer program, and you can certainly tell. Well, at least I can, being that I make music on lap top program as well, and I can spot out the sound. Igf you are familiar with computer music programs, then you will be able to discern the different sounds in each song and the type of effect and manipulation Trent used to achieve that particular effect.
    Trent even stated himself that most of the songs were created out of doodling on said computer program, and all of the songs were crafted in little time.
    If anyting, the great amount of noise featured on “Year Zero” takes place of the massive distorted guitars of previous albums, and it sounds perfect. The whole musical atmosphere of “Year Zero” perfectly depicts a dystopian, cyberpunk world. There are some guitars featured, but they are sparse, and they never overwhelm the album. Overall, behind the break beats, there is a deep ambient mood pervading this album, and lots of layers to peel away. Random blips and bloops, dissonance and noise creep around each corner, but they always fit within what is going on.
    On to Trent’s lyrics…
    Very political. Very very political. But that is the essence of the story, not necessarily reflecting present day world issues, but at the same time, is.
    One thing that is of note, the song “Meet Your Master” sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place on an earlier Nine Inch Nails album, however it still fits within the mythos of the concept.
    I haven’t quite put together the whole story featured on the album yet, it seems that the album most likely takes place in America, where the government is getting out of control. Control is the word, trying to control thoughts, actions, everything. The government has put a chemical in the water that controls everyone. Basically, everything is falling apart. Themes of war play a big part as well.
    There are seeds of dissent as well, groups that are trying to fight the government.
    There is a mysterious being called the Presence, featured on the cover of the album, however I don’t know much about this being.
    I haven’t been able to delve too deep into the lyrics yet to grasp the story, but from what I have heard, I am very pleased.
    Just the fact that this album isn’t another depressing outing is good enough for me.
    As far as structure wise, everything falls within a linear fashion, save the crazy noise orgasms that frequent this album. Verse, chorus, verse, aside from short instrumental passages, of which “Another Version of the Truth” is one of these. Each song has little moments that make each track stand out. There is no song that is forgettable, or skippable, not yet at least.
    The last song on the album, “Zero-Sum” I(which I think is the only other song to feature piano, besides “Another Version of the Truth”) is kind of funny, because it has the whole “moral” thing to it, the NIN way of course. Just listen to the chorus. Its tongue-in cheek

    I was very disappointed in “With Teeth”, and I thought that the end was around the corner for Nine Inch Nails. I figured “washed-up”, “has been” applied. And then Trent does something that totally redeems himself!
    That is not to say that critics won’t bash this album. Oh, yes this album will be the target of haters galore. Why? Because the general concept of the story has been done before. Because people with write this off as Trent Reznor’s attempt at a politically charged album. I also know that many will attack this album on the basis that it was totally created on a computer. Many people consider music made on a computer NOT music. There is actually a lot of hatred toward non-traditional music( by tradtional I mean music made with guitars, bass, drums..etc..).

    Do yourself a favor, don’t pass this album up. Give it a few good listens, it is well worth it. The beats alone are “tight”, in a way that Nine Inch Nails beats have never been before. The production is very “tight” as well.
    Trent totally satisfied exactly what I wanted to hear from him, a wonderful concept album with heavy futuristic overtones.
    All in all, “Year Zero” is a great album, that may not break the boundries of amazing musicianship, but does exactly what it is supposed to. It conveys a story. And a darn good one too.

    Posted on December 24, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Breaking the tradition of a five-year gap between albums, Trent Reznor has released the new Nine Inch Nails album “Year Zero” (2007) a mere two years after “With Teeth” (2005). Reznor attributes the long periods between albums in the past on alcohol and drug excess that comes from touring. Sober now for the last several years, focused and confident, Reznor’s “Year Zero” is perhaps the best album of his career.

    “Highly conceptual. Quite noisy. F@!#ing cool” is how Reznor describes “Year Zero,” which I think, really hits the (pardon the pun) nail on the head. Stepping outside himself and eschewing NIN’s usual self-involved angry and depressive themes, “Year Zero” portrays a bleak picture of (presumably) American society sometime in the not too distant future. Conflict abounds, militarily and between classes, which is the major theme of the album. Different songs offer different perspectives of this futuristic world–from soldiers (“the good solider,”) to greedy industrialists (“capital G”) to extra-terrestrials; the listener sees this corrupt society from different vantage points.

    While Reznor took a more rock oriented, organic, almost live sounding approach with “With Teeth,” “Year Zero” sounds more like old-school NIN in that it is more “industrial” sounding, with less live drumming. And whereas when listening to most past NIN albums, one gets a sense of what the singles will be, with “Year Zero,” this is not so obvious. While some of the songs have an infectious hook, it’s hard to imagine most of these songs as radio-staples, as the album is kind of “out there.” And while with many albums one can listen to individual tracks and enjoy the songs, separate from the album they are part of, “Year Zero” definitely sounds best when listened to in its entirety–as the listener can appreciate the songs more fully when the album is heard as a unit. Like any NIN of course, there are a lot of textures, often with a lot of instrumentals and effects going on at once; so while this album sounds good with just one listen, it just gets better and better with repeated plays. And while “Year Zero” is “quite noisy,” the album doesn’t hit you over the head the way “The Downward Spiral” does. “Year Zero,” while at times chaotic, is more restrained, but no less powerful.

    The short chaotic instrumental “Hyperpower,” in its urgency, sets the pace of the album. “The Beginning of the End,” with lyrics like “watch what you say they can read your mind,” paints the future in Orwellian terms. Tuneful and straightforward, “The Beginning of the End” is somewhat similar to the styling of “With Teeth” era NIN. The rocking “Survivalism,” already a radio hit, while not terribly challenging or one of the album’s strongest songs, is effective and good enough. The somewhat subdued “The Good Solider,” is taken from the perspective of a soldier, who is seriously questioning why he is fighting. The chimes towards the end of the song are especially effective. The bizarre, totally off-beat “Vessel,” sounds “big” but also spacey. When I listen to it I visualize a Tyrannosaurus Rex romping through some prehistoric jungle. I interpret the song to be about some kind of drug/mind control devise. The meaning behind the eerie, sluggish “Me, I’m Not” is ambiguous. A cool song, this one needs to grow on you. The industrial anthem “capital G” is perhaps one of the strongest songs on the album. From the perspective of “the machine,” the shakers and the movers behind business interests and the military-industrial-complex, “capital G” depicts the ruthlessness of those who hold the real power. “My Violent Heart,” which goes back-and-forth between a restrained verse and loud, frenzied chorus, is quite captivating. The meaning of the song is somewhat vague–with the clear message that actions have consequences, as Reznor proclaims:

    “you have set something in motion
    much greater than you’ve ever known
    standing there in all your grand naivety
    about to reap what you have sown”

    Another very off-beat but cool song, “The Warning,” describes the world from the perspective of some kind of alien life-form, perhaps “the presence,” the four fingered being that appears on the cover of the album. The religiously themed “God Given” has a real danceable beat to it, and could probably get a few spins in the clubs. “Meet Your Master,” both thematically and musically, sounds like a cross between “Head Like a Hole” and “Burn,” but is more three-dimensional and intricate. The instrumental “The Greater Good,” a medley of several different instruments is very low-key, creepy, and effective. The melodic and dark “The Great Destroyer” moves the album along nicely. One of Reznor’s finest instrumental compositions, “Another Version of the Truth” is hauntingly beautiful and melancholy in its’ understated elegance. The low-key “In this Twilight,” describing one’s emotions on the eve of Armageddon, is stunning. The submissive finale “Year Zero,” is the perfect closer, leaving a lasting impression that sums up many of the albums themes:

    “shame on us
    doomed from the start
    may god have mercy
    on our dirty little hearts
    shame on us
    for all we’ve done
    and all we ever were
    just zeros and ones”

    While I loved “With Teeth,” there is no doubt in my mind that this is a superior album. Even though I’m a huge NIN fan and tried my best to be objective while reviewing this album, there really isn’t a negative thing I can say about it. “Year Zero” is a total triumph, musically and thematically. With the state of the world the way it is, living in George W. Bush’s America, an album like “Year Zero” needed to be made. Not offering any simplistic solutions and without preaching, Reznor has made the definitive album of this decade–an album encompassing the feelings of anxiety and despair one feels living in the `00s, while taking NIN’s music to new heights. Reznor’s “Year Zero” is an undisputed masterpiece that is essential listening.

    Posted on December 24, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now