New Feature: Five Dark Parallels Between NIN’s ‘The Downward Spiral’ and the Manics’ ‘The Holy Bible’

It’s been too long since I wrote a feature for PopMatters. Free of the vapid hype of most music sites, the broad-minded, serious site is my sole writing home for the time being. This piece is one that has been in the pipeline for a while, and explores five dark parallels between 1994’s darkest, bleakest albums. Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible has long been a huge favourite of mine; Nine Inch Nails’ similarly gruelling The Downward Spiral feels like its industrial, American, million-selling sister record.

Read the full article at PopMatters

Record Store Day 2011: Lament for the CD

Record Store Day 2011 is here. When the sun comes up here in a few hours, it will be the UK’s turn to take part once more in a day dedicated to the country’s dwindling number of shops that cater to the music fan in all their many shapes and tastes. Fans celebrate music itself every day – on Twitter, blogs, and occasionally in person; RSD helps us do something different. It celebrates the joys of browsing in a well-stocked shop, chatting with knowledgeable staff, picking up records based solely on their covers: it is about the physicality of music and the ways it is brought to us through places, people and objects. More

How to Destroy Angels: First Listen

Just a very quick one tonight. Tomorrow I’m off to Keele in preparation for graduating on Tuesday morning, scarily enough. If I was still using the old Nuggets name for juicy free music, this post would come under that banner. I’m late to the party as usual, but Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has formed a new project with his wife Mariqueen Maandig and its name is How to Destroy Angels, after Coil’s 1984 debut single. At the band’s official site, they’re giving away a self-titled six-song EP for the princely sum of nothing, which if you’re in anyway NIN-inclined you’ve probably already downloaded. However, even if you don’t yet fall into that category, the EP is still worth a peep.

I’m not the first to point out that essentially, these six songs are NIN with a different name and featuring Maandig as the dominant vocalist. I say dominant, but actually she’s often incredibly whispery and barely-there, which was a mode Reznor has used in the past, but Maandig is nevertheless quite a vocal change from the aggressive, anguished grandstanding we expect from a NIN-based project. Perhaps the best track is the seven-minute closer “The Drowning”, which is surprisingly engaging for its length. On the basis of a first listen, I think this EP is pretty promising – which is good, as we’re told that we can probably expect a full-length LP by Spring 2011. In the meantime, get acquainted at the official site. I need some sleep…

“This One Is On Us” Delivers the Goods

These days, the post never arrives in the morning. Instead, it skulks in in the early afternoon, generally making it all the more disappointing that what you eventually get isn’t worth opening. Today was different in the latter respect; today I got a parcel which completely confused me. It was addressed to me, but it was labelled “USPS First-Class International” and had come from Connecticut. What on Earth could it be? I speculated that it might be something ordered by one of my parents and mistakenly addressed to me, but the parcel was too exciting for me to not open it, so open it I did. And behold:

It’s the DVD release of Another Version of the Truth, the culmination of the staggeringly huge This One is On Us project I blogged about excitedly some time ago. I’d mostly forgotten that I’d ordered a copy, and I certainly didn’t clock on that it was the contents of my parcel, hence it was a wonderful surprise to open it. Costing me just $6 for postage, the set consists of three DVDs – disc 1 is a full Nine Inch Nails concert from 2008 in Las Vegas made up of fan-shot footage, disc 2 is a fan-compiled selection of HD footage provided by the band’s team of shows in Portland, Oregon, Victoria, British Columbia and Sacramento, California and disc 3 is an extras reel apparently including an interview with Josh Freese, among other things. Also included in the set is a 16-page full colour booklet including the “making of” story of the collection, a postcard, and a sticker/bookmark type thing.

Now I haven’t had chance to watch much of the footage, but I can already tell that this is a project that has come off incredibly well. I was tremendously excited about from the beginning (until I forgot about it) and I’m almost envious of the people who were able to participate. These guys have managed to bring multiple NIN shows to a large number of fans who have never been able to see the band live, and might never be able to. The project is a triumph, so far absolutely on a par with any official release by any band. Congratulations and thanks to @thisoneisonus!

My Top Ten: Most Exciting Rock Songs

Purely as a little diversion, I’ve decided to compile ten of my personal favourite songs selected for their sheer cathartic thrill. They come from all kinds of eras and rock subgenres, and if you click the song titles you’ll be taken to a YouTube link that will allow you to hear the songs. Enjoy, and please comment!

Bad Religion – “What Can You Do
From Suffer (1988)
Always alarmingly tight and mercilessly heavy, Bad Religion just had to have a place on my list. My personal favourite from their acclaimed 1988 album Suffer is “What Can You Do”, which may appear late on the record but has enough energy to match any other song present. More hard rock and less punk than most of Bad Religion’s output, the song plays out lyrically as a tongue-in-cheek meditation (if “meditation” can sound this rollicking) on the apparent futility of existence, especially if that existence is in a rock band.

Led Zeppelin – “Rock and Roll
From Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Personally, I’ve always thought that good use of the cymbals is key to a drummer’s success at making a rock record truly gripping. Long recognised as among the most exciting songs in rock, “Rock and Roll” is among my favourites from Led Zep’s finest album Led Zeppelin IV as well as a brilliant cymbals song. A homage to the formative early rock n’ roll songs of the 1950s, referencing several of them in the lyrics belted out by Robert Plant, this is a perfect demonstration of how gloriously muscular Zeppelin, and early ’70s rock in general could be.

Nine Inch Nails – “Not So Pretty Now
From NINJA Tour Sampler (2009)
My absolute favourite NIN track, “Not So Pretty Now” was originally meant to be on the project’s 2005 record With Teeth but it was canned; four years later, it appeared as a quick track to stick onto a free tour sampler to promote Trent Reznor’s tour with Jane’s Addiction and Street Sweeper Social Club. It’s a shame that it didn’t get a wider audience, as it’s ludicrously propulsive, featuring a wonderfully bitter vocal from Reznor. It’s so good, that I’ve written about it before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again. Just ace.

Manic Street Preachers – “Suicide Is Painless (Theme From M.A.S.H.)
Charity single (1992)
The Manics have a fair number of awesomely exciting songs to their name, but after much deliberation I’ve plumped for one which is really exciting in only one brief section. That section, though, is such a glorious orgy of vulgar thrash-rock posturing that it just screams for inclusion. The fact that they made the theme from the classic TV show M.A.S.H. into this rock monster is simultaneously near-unbelievable and completely, totally Manicsian to the very core. Riotous.

Nirvana – “Tourette’s
From In Utero (1993)
Possibly at least partly intended as a joke (it is prefixed by a voice sample saying “moderate rock” and follows a track called “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” after all), this song from Nirvana’s final studio album In Utero nevertheless comprises 95 of the most thrilling seconds ever committed to disc. Kurt Cobain wails incoherently as drums and guitar attempt to drown each other out, in what Meat Loaf would refer as “Everything Louder Than Everything Else” on Bat Out of Hell II which, fascinatingly, was released the day after In Utero.

Swimming – “Panthalassa
From The Fireflow Trade (2009)
If you’re writing a song about and titled after the global ocean which surrounded the supercontinent Pangaea 250 million years ago, what must it sound like? The answer, obviously, is massive. The wonderful Nottingham band Swimming realised this golden rule, observed by all bands that had written on the topic before… all none of them. Accordingly, “Panthalassa” is a song so thrillingly realised that its six-minute span flies by, wrapping the listener up in a nigh-on transcendent experience forged from the five elements: guitar, bass, drums, synth, voice.

Foo Fighters – “Wattershed
From Foo Fighters (1995)
Back when Foo Fighters was a one-man Nine Inch Nails-esque project run entirely by Dave Grohl, that project released a track on the self-titled debut album by the name of “Wattershed”. Totally stripped down in the mold of Grohl’s former band Nirvana, the track was a two-and-a-half minute raucous thrash, helmed by one of Grohl’s most enjoyably frantic vocal performances featuring a minimal number of recognisable phrases, one of which is “just another rock band!” Foo Fighters was one of those by the time of the next album, albeit still rather a good one.

The Beatles – “Helter Skelter
From The Beatles (1968)
A bit of an obvious one, this. Infamously the probable most heavy track The Beatles ever recorded, “Helter Skelter” won a dark reputation for itself when it became one of the inspirations for one Charlie Manson, who saw it as the omen of a forthcoming apocalyptic race war. As it turned out, “Helter Skelter” was an omen of something, which was the coming of heavy metal, spearheaded by bands like Blue Cheer and a little later, Black Sabbath. A successor to earlier gripping Beatles riff-based records records like “Paperback Writer” and “I Feel Fine”.

Talco – “La Crociata del Dittatore Bianco
From Tutti Assolti (2004)
So here’s something a bit different for you! Talco are an Italian ska-punk band from near Venice. They’ve given much of their music away free, including their debut full LP Tutti Assolti. Their sound is gloriously heavy but also fluent and listenable, and among the highlights of that album is the brilliant “La Crociata del Dittatore Bianco”. Crank this one up loud, don’t worry about not understanding the rapid-fire Italian lyrics, and instead enjoy the fantastic surge of that magnificent chorus. Look up Talco on the free music site Jamendo and you can get another great album by them, Combat Circus.

Black Sabbath – “Never Say Die
From Never Say Die (1978)
Black Sabbath were always heavy, but not neccesarily “exciting” as such, as their songs were often more crushingly slow and powerful rather than fast and propulsive. There were a few exceptions though, which cropped up as real gems even on deeply flawed albums like Never Say Die, the last album Ozzy was present on before being fired from the band in 1978. Actually lyrically uplifting, “Never Say Die” is a corker of a track which deserves to be remembered even if its unfortunate album-mates are forgotten. A hell of a ride.

This One Is On Us

Last night I got an email which really got me excited. This One Is On Us, a Nine Inch Nails community project, is really getting going. Completely organised by NIN’s fan community, it involves compiling onto discs the many hours of live tour footage given away by Trent Reznor that were filmed during 2008’s Lights in the Sky Tour to support The Slip. A few weeks ago I signed up to request a triple-DVD set of the footage, and the email I got last night gave me the oppurtunity to pay my $6 and complete my order. Whilst I’m far from a priority customer having put my request in so late, the shipping is scheduled to begin on the 15th of March. The thought of having a NIN DVD made for me by other fans and possessed only by a select few is really exciting.

Besides organising this DVD/Blu-Ray project, This One Is On Us have also used their website to offer links to various snippets of the footage already compiled and uploaded to video sites by community members. I linked to one of these in my top frontmen post about Reznor, but here’s the main “Your Edits” page – there’s some great stuff there. I’ve just got to try to be patient waiting for my DVDs now!

Three Awesome Frontmen

James Dean Bradfield (Manic Street Preachers)
Anyone who knows me will realise that I’m a huge Manic Street Preachers fan. I like my music to be exciting and intelligent, without either compromising the other, and as far as rock goes the Manics are one of the purest distillations of that idea that I’ve ever come across. Much of the excitement part comes from their frontman James Dean Bradfield, who despite all the Richey admiration has always been by far the single most important member of the main and its main musical driving force. Growing up as a choirboy, he has an impressive vocal range and can do emotive introspection (“This Joke Sport Severed”), sheer rage (“Motown Junk”) and just about anything in between. His guitar work is probably even more crucial to the band, and I’m consistently stunned that he isn’t featured in more (indeed any, as far as I know) of those top guitarist lists.

One of the most interesting things about James is that he’s almost never written any lyrics. The vast majority of the time, he’s been writing music to and then singing lyrics written by Richey James Edwards or Nicky Wire. The fact that he has consistently managed to get his head around these frequently controversial, vitriolic, warped and political words is a testament to his ability. Despite his diminutive stature – earning him the nickname “He-Man” when he was a  kid – James has a huge stage presence when you see him live, bludgeoning the audience into submission with his glorious riffage.

Awesomeness Demonstration: Promo Video for “Faster” from The Holy Bible (1994)

Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails)
Ah, Treznor. Less a frontman than near enough a band in and of himself, Trent Reznor is clearly one of the most important people in the entire music industry. He’s had a slightly odd career path, starting off in a few curious 80s synth bands, then creating NIN’s debut album Pretty Hate Machine using spare recording time at a studio where he worked. He’s the underground’s infiltration man on the mainstream, challenging the constraints of record labels and, in recent years, increasingly striking out on his own. Amongst other things, I’ve always found Reznor’s stage persona to be built up around being quite scary, frankly – NIN’s songs are even more intense live than they are on record, and from the footage I’ve seen the man is always giving it his absolute all, meshing perfectly with the frequently brutal and abrasive soundworld of his dystopian music. Reznor’s the only one of my frontmen that I haven’t seen live yet,  but I’d love to be able to.

Besides the brilliant way he looks after his fans, the best thing about Reznor is his distinctive vocal style, which unsurprisingly has its imitators. Reznor frequently sounds like he’s undergoing some horrendous psychological breakdown, which at some points in NIN’s career, he probably wasn’t faking. I think that his style is possibly best demonstrated by his vocals on The Downward Spiral, the other challenging work of genius released in 1994 besides The Holy Bible.

Awesomeness Demonstration: “March of the Pigs” from The Downward Spiral live 2008

Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)
Pfft at Them Crooked Vultures. That supergroup is not Dave Grohl’s best home. He may have participated in tons of bands (Scream, Nirvana, Probot, Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails…) but Foo Fighters is Grohl’s true project to most and it’s his work with that band that earns him his place in his informal little list. Foo Fighters gives Grohl his place platform for being, famously, an incredibly nice man. The fact that he backs up his warm persona with some great guitar work and athletic singing makes him a living legend, frankly. Have you noticed though, that he never seems to be able to replicate live the insanely hard-to-sing passage from “Monkey Wrench”?

That’s forgiveable though, as you’ll know if you’ve ever tried to sing it. In lots of ways I think I like Grohl so much because in lots of ways, he’s like an American (albeit more extrovert) version of James Dean Bradfield. He’s capable of quite serene singing, as well as outright roaring, although his range does slot more neatly towards the latter end. Softer songs like those on the acoustic side of double album In Your Honor and personal favourite of mine “Aurora” show his ability to be subtly emotive, but then again there’s shouters like “Monkey Wrench” or “Let It Die”. The Manics comparison goes a little deeper actually, in the sense that the two bands played together at a big show a couple of years back and I saw them both for the first time when they were among the headliners of V2007. True facts.

Awesomeness Demonstration: Promo video for “The Pretender” from Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007)

Nuggets #2: Heavy Industry

I seem to have subconsciously decided that Nuggets is weekly now, so in theory I’m going to keep throwing these up on Saturdays. It struck me earlier that if I intend to do this all year that’s just insane but we’ll see how it goes, eh? A quick trawl through any of the huge number of netlabels out there shows just how much free music is actually available these days. Some big bands may give away a few freebies (Woodpigeon, Nine Inch Nails, Coldplay, etc), these netlabels release enormous amounts of material in a dizzying array of genres. Not surprisingly, a fair amount of that is uncommercial music like ambient and experimental music, but look around and it’s not hard to find substantial caches of rock, folk, electronica, metal, and so on. Far from exclusives, the stuff I go on about in Nuggets are some of the best things I’ve found from these netlabels and free music blogs – handpicked, if you like. There’s a lot of guff out there for every decent release, as you’d expect. Anyway, onwards! There’s something of an industrial theme this week…

Nine Inch Nails / Jane’s Addiction / Street Sweeper Social Club – NIN|JA Tour Sampler

You probably realise that Trent Reznor, nice man as he is, gave away the last proper NIN album for free. What you might not realise is that to drum up interest for the NIN|JA tour in which NIN, Jane’s Addiction and rap-rock band Street Sweeper Social Club toured together, the three bands contributed two tracks each to this EP, which was given away free. I’m not a huge fan of SSSC, but “Chip Away” by JA is intriguing and the two songs given away by NIN are both worth a listen. “Non-Entity” and “Not So Pretty Now” were both recorded for the 2005 album With Teeth, but for some reason Reznor dropped them in favour of other tracks. The latter song is the best, a hilariously thrilling romp. I liked it so much that I wrote about it for one of TLOBF’s “Now Playing” features. Even if the other songs don’t seem likely to grab your attention, “Not So Pretty Now” is simply a must have and makes downloading the EP thoroughly worthwhile. I can’t seem to see the EP hosted on the NIN site anymore, however it can be found here among other places. Next is a bit more NIN…

Halo33 – Nine Inch Nails Remixes

This time though, it’s remixes. Halo33 is the moniker of one of the foremost community remixers in the NIN world, a community that sprang up when Reznor started to allow fans to download the multitrack files for the project’s songs so that anyone could remix them freely. Since then, huge numbers have been created and can be heard at Halo33’s remixes tend to be more sparse than the original tracks, and on this EP (which mostly covers the aforementioned With Teeth album from 2005) they focus on accentuating the subtle elements which were present, but almost inaudible before. Most of the remixes here are of my favourite track from that album, the brilliant “Only”, which had a music video directed by one David Fincher. There are also remixes of “The Hand That Feeds”. Far from definitive, I mention these mixes just as a little taster of the rather huge world of NIN remixing, which generally I find more interesting than remixes in general. You can get the NIN Remixes EP from, where it’s hosted as free downloads. I recommend the DownThemAll Firefox add-on to swiftly download multiple files like this. Rather handy, I think you’ll find, and often a neccesity for successful free music-hunting.

Fresh Body Shop – The Ugly Army

From NIN to NIN remixes to NIN clone! OK, that’s a slightly unfair thing to call the work of Fresh Body Shop. Once a one-man project which seems to have turned into a band, this project is based in Nantes, France and has released several free albums and EPs. The best I’ve heard so far is this seven-song EP/mini-album entitled The Ugly Army. NIN are clearly the main influence, and the vocals are very similar to (albeit not as good as) Reznor’s. FBS are a bit more accessible than the average NIN track, but nevertheless there’s a hard edge here. The title track has a great little chorus; “Mary” sounds surprisingly Nirvana-esque to me (although I can’t quite pin down which, if any, particular song it sounds like); and “The Hunt” has some intriguing, sinister lyrics. As I say there’s quite a lot more FBS stuff on Jamendo so if you like this there’s no need to stop here. The Jamendo page for this particular record, from which it can be downloaded, is here. Until next time folks… whether there’ll be a theme or not, I honestly can’t say!

Several Things…

I’ve been busy again – it’s happening frustratingly often lately, and I still have quite a lot to do now. I thought I ought to find a few minutes to throw together a blog post though, as a few things have happened since my last update, when I explained that issue 4 of Concourse was available. Appropriately, the first thing I have to mention is that Issue 5 is now available, both online (here) and in paper form for anyone still on Keele’s campus. It’s not only the last issue of the semester, but also of the year and the decade – in keeping with that, I used my page to put together a list of seven albums which I think reflect some of the musical trends of the last ten years… at least as I’ve experienced them. The list includes records by Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails and Red Hot Chili Peppers, check it out.

It is of course the time of massive outpourings of top albums of the year and of the decade lists, and I’m taking part in yet more myself. The TLOBF best of 2009 list is already available, including a little quote from me about Future of the Left’s fantastic second album Travels With Myself and Another which happily made it to #25 of the year on the staff vote. I can’t say I’ve heard all of our #1 album, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, but I’m not a big fan of what I have heard so I’m a bit perplexed… Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is an almost-deserving #2 though, and I’m chuffed that the Manics’ Journal for Plague Lovers reached #31 and that Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More got to #22. Check out our epic list here.

Resolution is also, not surprisingly, put together some end of 2009 stuff. Our best of 2009 content involves each of our writers putting together some words about their favourite game of the year, as well as three games that are given honourable mentions. Several of the articles are already up, including thoughts from Lewis, Fraser, Jennifer, Christos and Greg. I put together a piece on the subject of Red Faction: Guerilla, which should hopefully make an appearance in the next couple of days. I got to play a disappointingly small number of games this year, but thankfully all the ones I have played have been great, so putting together my four games was interesting, at least. Reso’s end of 2009 articles can be found here.

That’s all for now. x

// Thought

"There's a flaming red horizon that screams our names..."

Jeff Buckley - "Eternal Life"


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.