The band Nine Inch Nails are giving away the first 9 tracks of their new album, Ghosts I–IV, as free MP3s.
Not crappy-sounding low-bitrate stuff, but high quality, 320kbps, DRM-free files. What’s more, the album appears to be self-released — or at least released without major label involvement — through Artist In Residence (who are also doing Sigur Rós‘ In a Frozen Sea: A Year with Sigur Rós). And mashup fans rejoice, because all the material is released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license!
I should state up front that I generally don’t like NiN’s music. Convinced that I just didn’t like them because they were popular, friends used to try to trick me by putting them on, not telling me who it was, and then ask what I thought. It never worked, I could just never get into them. However, I really, really like this material. Just know going in that I’m not otherwise a fan, so I can’t really put this in the context of the rest of the Reznor canon.
These nine tracks—which have no names, only numbers—start off quietly with two piano pieces that have a similar, but slightly darker feeling than Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies, almost as though David Darling had been sitting over Satie’s shoulder when he wrote them. They’re contemplative and beautiful without being wussy.
The third moves into something slightly more tribal with both electric and acoustic instruments, like the bastard child of Peter Gabriel’s Passion (his music for the controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ) and John Carpenter’s score for his 1981 classic film Escape From New York.
Number four continues with dirty bursting distorted guitar and bass over thin, plodding strummed acoustic guitar. It sounds like NiN jamming as a band with no pre-programed tracks.
Five is an old-school tape loop tweakfest that’s probably fairly inaccessible on its own, but works in the context of the rest of the material. Even though it sounds very different, it makes a surprisingly good prelude to cut six, which is fairly ambient and features low, bleating horns under a repetitive and dissonant xylophonic phrase.
Seven breaks out into some fairly funky, old-school, drop-beat electro-industrial with nicely restrained electric guitar driving and whining over it. If you like old Skinny Puppy, you’ll probably like this.
Eight is a dirty-sounding, driving, analog mess of people aggressively playing the crap out of a traditional rock 4-piece setup that will have you banging your head if you’re into this kind of thing. Think Man Is The Bastard (but in 4/4 time) meets Big Black and you’ll have an idea of what you’re in for.
Nine, the last tune in the MP3 package, ties it together by bringing back more of the mellow piano they opened with, but played over a heavily processed and erratic but listenable beat, with lush, long synth pads woven with some sea-like noise throughout. I suspect that this segues into the next song because of the way it ends… at least I hope so, because it feels a little awkward otherwise.
Ghosts I-IV—judging from the portion of it I’ve heard here—is one of the rare albums that can cover a lot of stylistic territory and still hang together as a coherent piece, which is something I really like when the band can pull it off—and NiN has, admirably. (Others that come to mind are Ween’s The Mollusk and Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage.)
This music arrived unexpectedly as the result of an experiment. The rules were as follows: 10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as… something.
The team: Atticus Ross, Alan Moulder and myself with some help from Alessandro Cortini, Adrian Belew and Brian Viglione. Rob Sheridan collaborated with Artist in Residence (A+R) to create the accompanying visual and physical aesthetic.
We began improvising and let the music decide the direction. Eyes were closed, hands played instruments and it began. Within a matter of days it became clear we were on to something, and a lot of material began appearing. What we thought could be a five song EP became much more. I invited some friends over to join in and we all enjoyed the process of collaborating on this.
The end result is a wildly varied body of music that we’re able to present to the world in ways the confines of a major record label would never have allowed – from a 100% DRM-free, high-quality download, to the most luxurious physical package we’ve ever created.
More volumes of Ghosts are likely to appear in the future.
– Trent Reznor, March 2, 2008
I didn’t think I’d ever write this, but right the fuck on, Trent! They took artistic and business risks, and in my mind, they both paid off. The music I’ve heard so far is good, enjoyable, and engaging, and true to the first paragraph, has a feeling of immediacy and directness. Not over-produced, not over-tweaked, but a genuine experience. And by giving me a real, no-bullshit taste of it, they’ve made me into a customer. I wouldn’t have even thought about buying this otherwise, but I’m off to buy the album right now. And it’s not just me it’s working on: the Chicago Tribune is reporting that the album has done U.S. $1.6 million in the week it’s been out. (Major labels, are you paying attention yet?)
The full 36-track record is available as a download for US $5. That’s right, FIVE BUCKS for 36 songs, in your choice of LAME-encoded 320k MP3, FLAC (lossless, full CD quality), or Apple Lossless. By Grabthar’s Hammer, what a savings!
Physical copies are available (or will soon be, depending on where in the world you live) as a double CD (US $10), Deluxe Edition (U.S. $75, double CD set plus “1 data DVD with all 36 tracks in multi-track format [mash that up!], and a Blu-ray disc with Ghosts I-IV in high-definition 96/24 stereo and accompanying slideshow”), and a quadruple 12-inch vinyl set. (There was a $300 Ultra Deluxe Limited Edition of 2,500 pieces, but it’s already sold out.)
I hope they do release more volumes, because this is good stuff. Go get it!