“The Slip” by Nine Inch Nails (Review!)

Album: The Slip
Artist: Nine Inch Nails

Some albums take years to make, some take several weeks, and some people manage to go the distance even farther than them. A while ago I had written about the group The Fiery Furnaces, a brother sister duo who had managed to squeeze out 4 albums and one double solo album since 2005. I thought you couldn’t get more productive than that, but Trent Reznor has been out to prove me wrong. Since 2005, he has released 3 Albums (4 if you count the remix album), a double album, a Live DVD/Blu-Ray/HD-DVD, and launched a massive Alternate Reality Game based on his 2007 album Year Zero. Not to mention his production work on Saul Williams’ album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! and his guest appearances on The El-P album I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and the Queens of the Stone Age album Era Vulgaris. Add in his recent use of the Internet to distribute multi-tracks for some of his songs for fans to remix, as well as distributing whole albums in a digital only format overseen by Reznor himself.

Trent Reznor has been a very, very busy man.

His latest release comes just months after the release of the massive experimental instrumental album Ghosts I-IV, which in it’s own right was a simply phenomenal album and one worthy of much praise for the creativity and imagination in creating some truly breathtaking soundscapes. That album was released over the internet with various download options and several physical copy options as well. The new album, titled The Slip and released on May 5th at 12am Los Angeles time, is not Trent trying to distance himself from his fans but rather bring us all closer together. The album itself is completely free for all downloaded versions, including a V0 MP3 version, a FLAC version, an Apple Lossless version, and a high definition audio 24/96 Wave version. At first the choice may seem overwhelming but it is easy to choose which one is right for you. MP3 will work in almost everything, iPod, Zune, your el cheap-o 512MB flash drive player, and so on. FLAC is heftier on the file size, but provides a sound quality much greater (though some will argue against this) than MP3 can. Unfortunately, FLAC is not an accepted format by many companies and therefore this will not work in practically any media player without installing a custom firmware first. It will be able to be played on computers with programs such as winamp installed. Apple Lossless will work on iPods but is not as compatible with other players as MP3. The sound quality is, like FLAC, better than MP3. And last but not least, for only those really dedicated fans, is the 24/96 Wave set. This set is the largest of all options (over 1GB) and is really only useful to those with high end audio systems. Most people won’t even be able to hear a difference, but the option to have this is very nice but I would have liked to see a surround mix. Also included with each download is an art booklet for the album in .pdf format. I downloaded the MP3, FLAC, and Wave sets. For this review I will be listening to the FLAC version.

The album starts off with the ambient introduction track of “999,999”. This short 1:25 track has a drone that starts off solid but begins to bubble as layers of instrumentation stack on. First with a subdued bass rumble, then another drone that pops up and cuts off. Eventually everything starts getting louder as some static and noise start to come into the soundscape. Then what sounds like a distorted human voice begins to emerge, and the instruments all stop for a moment to allow the voice to say it’s message, “How did I slip into..”, which is then cut off by the next song. “1,000,000” starts off with a simple live drum beat, with a distorted guitar chugging along. The song eventually has a bass come in as well towards the end of the verse and during the chorus. The imagery of the lyrics bring back memories of his older works, with lines like “Put the gun / In my Mouth / Close your eyes / Blow my fucking brains out”. Back before Trent’s political turn with With Teeth and Year Zero, his lyrics focused on darker, more personal demons and this song seems to point the message more at a personal level rather than asking you who you vote for. This will be sure to please many of his older fans, especially with the fake-out towards the end of the song.

“Letting You” follows a similar buildup as “1,000,000” did, with drums coming in first followed by a guitar drone. The energy on this track seems less concerned on staying on a beat and more on frantic strikes. This song has a heavier political tone, striking back at the powers in charge and saying that “We are letting you get away with it”. “Discipline”, the 4th track, was the first song from this album to be released to the public. Unleashed by a very simple free download page on nin.com, it was also sent to radio stations and the stations were encouraged to send listeners to a customized version of that page for their respective stations. Many have compared this song to With Teeth‘s “Only”, with a similar drum sound and more personal lyrics. I am inclined to agree with them, it does sound very similar but this is not a bad thing. Those familiar with the single version of “Discipline” will notice that the song no longer completely fades, but instead abruptly cuts into the next song.

“Echoplex” is the second track that was given to fans before the album’s release. This track was revealed on the facebook application “iLike” in the Nine Inch Nails group. Users were able to download the track free of charge as well. One of the first things to note about this song is that the song has a drum machine beat instead of live drums like the first half of the album has had. This gives it a similar sound to songs on the first Nine Inch Nails record, Pretty Hate Machine. For me this song reminds me a lot of the Pink Floyd album The Wall, with similar imagery of “being safe in here”, “my voice just echoes off these walls” and “You will never ever get to me in here”. The haunting lyrics are backed by a very solid and almost pop quality tune, which despite the isolated lyrics almost make you want to dance. There is also a section where Reznor goes “la la la la la la”. Now you’ve heard it all.

“Head Down” starts of with a funky bass beat, an infectious guitar riff, and powerful drums. The lyrics once again take a turn for the dark, twisted and interpersonal. The main theme seems to be of great frustration as Reznor painfully lashes out with his voice, giving one of his best vocal performances in the last few albums. For a moment, you can almost hear the angry, angsty Reznor of the The Downward Spiral / The Fragile eras. The song ends with a bass drone that is almost barely there, like something not quite all in this world. “Lights in the Sky” is a mainly piano piece, a minimalist track that will have many feel a chill down their spine. “Sky” will be a special treat for long time NIN fans, as the sound is very similar to the simplistic beauty of The Fragile and the EP Still. This song seamlessly integrates into the next song, the beautiful instrumental piece “Corona Radiata”.

“Corona Radiata” is an absolutely stunning track, the longest track on the record and the longest Nine Inch Nails track ever recorded. The soundscape is just dreamy, warm and inviting yet mysterious. Several layers are at work here, different drones of different sounds and they all come together and compliment each other. It should be noted that the name of the track has some roots in Biology. The Corona Radiata is a layer of cells that provide protein for the egg cell. There is also a section of the brain which shares the same name, and is the giver and receiver of traffic for the Cerebral Cortex. Try thinking about either of those while listening to the song and see what kind of pictures your mind can come up with.

“The Four of Us are Dying” is another instrumental and one of the more electronica inspired tracks. While not quite as beautiful as “Corona” this track certainly holds its own. Multiple layers are once again found here, with a lot of clashing of sounds. Some believe the “Four” from the title could be the four that make up the iteration of Nine Inch Nails for this album. Let the “Paul is Dead” style rumors commence. It is also noted that this song shares its name with a Twilight Zone episode. The album finally hits the end home with “Demon Seed”, a heavily distorted track with Reznor’s vocals really low in the mix. This song features a lot of vocal repetition, and towards the end the vox take on an almost demonic quality. There are multiple layers of vocals going on at some points, some repeating the previous verse while others continue the song. And just as soon as the album had started, it ends.

What it all boils down to: This album is free to download, with physical copies coming later in the year. It calls back to the older Nine Inch Nails sound and ideals that fans love so much and wanted to see more of. For a quick release, the polish was not sacrificed. The production work is spot on, and while there are a few sections where I wish the vocals weren’t mixed so low for the most part it hits the (Nine Inch) Nail on the head. The Slip is a powerful album that rivals albums that would take other bands years to make, and is a great “Thank You” to Nine Inch Nails fans from Trent. Mr. Reznor is a machine, but he is still human after all. The conflicting sounds of sterile instrumentation with organic soundscapes makes for a great listen and will be sure to tickle your ears like pop rocks on your tongue. And with the Multi-Tracks hitting NIN’s official remix site soon, expect to see some great (and some not so great) fan remixes. It is a good time to be a Nine Inch Nails fan.

The Slip is available for free download directly from the artist at http://theslip.nin.com/.

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Published in: on May 6, 2008 at 2:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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