Weird Times Indeed…

It may be best to begin with the three words Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have addressed to us, the friends of Nine Inch Nails, on their website which also kindly links us to free downloads of their latest ambient releases: Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts.

It has been twelve years since the release of Ghosts I-IV, the 6th NIN LP composed of 36 mostly ambient tracks and described by Trent as, “a soundtrack for daydreams.” At the time it was compared to the works of Brian Eno and was also a great musical tool to revise and procrastinate to for my exams.

This LP foreshadowed the tonal soundscapes Trent and Atticus would lend in a partnership with David Fincher and a multitude of other film and television soundtracks; winning them an Oscar and Golden Globe for their seminal work in Fincher’s The Social Network.  In Twin Peaks Series 3, they strangely (or maybe not so strangely, it being Twin Peaks after all) graced the stage of The Roadhouse Tavern, performing a live rendition of “She’s Gone Away” from EP ‘Not the Actual Events’ as “The Nine Inch Nails.” Their most recent soundtrack for Damon Lindelof’s WATCHMEN series also proved to be one of its stand out elements as they released not one, but three soundtrack albums as the show progressed. (‘NUN WITH A MOTHER F*&*IN’ GUN’ is a must listen for any NIN fan craving some filthy distortion over an infectious beat.)

According to a video posted by Trent on YouTube in 2008, Ghosts I-IV were originally conceived as an experiment. The band would take sensory inspiration from a visual reference the band would imagine: a place, or a setting, or a situation.

Now their sensory inspirations come from our current global moment of hysteria amidst pandemic. Their letter to us stating these LPs have been crafted as a gift to us and in an attempt to keep themselves sane and busy. Their mission statement is to reflect the fluttering emotions we are all experiencing as our various screens scream grimmer news by the hour. These LPs are said to mirror the times we may feel hope and the times of utter despair – times which are a changin’ minute to minute.

The first notable change from Ghosts I-IV to their sequels are the titles of the songs. Ghosts I-IV all had generic titles such as “34 Ghosts IV,” notably sampled in Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.”

Now they have titles which reflect the tone of each song, much like a film score which suggests a much more thought out and coherent approach in comparison to the original Ghosts LP.

Ghosts V: Together is the more hopeful of the two albums, as the warming tones of opening track “Letting Go While Holding On” lead us in with a calmness, building upon angelic harmonics- a motif revisited in track “With Faith,” later in the album. “Your Touch” stands out as having some of the more interesting sounds of this record, but finisher “Still Right Here” takes the cake as the best track by a long shot. Along the first three of the ten minute closer we can still feel some calm with dashes of anxiety slipping in, but it builds and builds into a beat more reminiscent of earlier NIN work. The perfect transition into the feelings of restlessness and uncertainty in the sequel LP, Ghosts VI: Locusts.

The minimalistic and ghostly piano of opener “The Cursed Clock” sets the scene for the darker and more claustrophobic of the two albums. Also notable is the placement of this album after our more serene installment of Ghosts; pessimism and anxiety following the ideas of togetherness and hope. I always prefer a little light at the end of my tunnel, not the other way around. I fear that may be what they’re trying to say here: the worst is yet to come. The noirish saxophones and clattering tension of “Around Every Corner” do little to deter that train of thought.

This album certainly does hark the brooding styles of film-noir as track “Run Like Hell” bursts to life with saxophones, drums and plenty of suspense. You can imagine it, and “When It Happens (Don’t Mind Me)” slotting perfectly into another of David Fincher’s films.

“Another Crashed Car” is like an intermission of sorts from the previous suspense but for me heightens the feelings of unease and disconnection we may be feeling in our current moment, as somber piano chords play over the sounds of repeated clatter and dead phone lines.

It is an absolute delight to see how these installments in the Ghosts canon have improved from what was initially an experiment into works that sound fuller and more complete, no doubt due to the time Trent and Atticus’ have spent sharpening their craft through contributions to film and television. In the message they have left on their site, they remind us of the importance of “MUSIC – WHETHER LISTENING TO IT, THINKING ABOUT IT OR CREATING IT – HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE THING THAT HELPED US GET THROUGH ANYTHING – GOOD OR BAD.”

On Ghosts V and VI, they have laid out the perfect collage of the good and the bad. A soundtrack for our weird times indeed.

Track Listing for Ghost V:  Together:

  1.  Letting Go While Holding On
  2.  Together
  3.  Out In The Open
  4.  With Faith
  5.  Apart
  6.  Your Touch
  7.  Hope We Can Again
  8.  Still Right Here

Track Listing for Ghost VI:  Locusts

  1.  The Cursed Clock
  2.  Around Every Corner
  3.  The Worriment Waltz
  4.  Run Like Hell
  5.  When It Happens (Don’t Mind Me)
  6.  Another Crashed Car
  7.  Temp Fix
  8.  Trust Fades
  9.  A Really Bad Night
  10.  Your New Normal
  11.  Just Breathe
  12.  Right Behind You
  13.  Turn This Off Please
  14.  So Tired
  15.  Almost Dawn

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