Roughly a year after Year Zero -- a year marked by lots of sniping with his record company first about their clueless promotion then devolving into a tirade about their general uselessness -- Trent Reznor broke free of Interscope/Universal and became a free agent, releasing music where and when he wanted. To celebrate his freedom he released the four-part Ghosts, a clearinghouse of 36 instrumentals all created during the years he crafted Year Zero. It should come as no great surprise that Ghosts then plays like a sketchbook, a place where Reznor jotted down sounds and textures that flitted across his mind and then either took them no further, or decided to spin them into something entirely new for the full album. These aren't songs, they're seeds, and they (appropriately) aren't even graced with titles; they're all dubbed "Ghosts," parts one through 36, and if Reznor didn't spend enough time crafting them into proper songs, don't feel too bad if you don't spend enough time with Ghosts to sort through them, picking out which fragments are powered by a clenched electro beat and which are glassy ambient shards. Even fanatics might be hard-pressed to give Ghosts such a careful listen as it's simply not meant to be so closely observed. It's meant to be taken as surface, perhaps skimmed for samples, but generally to be used as mildly unsettling mood music -- a specialty of Reznor's, to be sure, but he's better and scarier when his ideas are more finely honed than they are here.
Ghosts IIV, the new album from Nine Inch Nails, sees the legendary rockers explore some serious new sonic territory. Comprised of almost two hours of music composed and recorded over a ten-week period, Ghosts I-IV boasts 36 tracks described by Trent Reznor as a "soundtrack for daydreams". That's perhaps true--especially if your daydreams are particularly dark and surreally beautiful. Swelling synths, infectious (and often maudlin) piano melodies, baleful drones and glitchy textures are the unorthodox instruments employed here rather than the standard guitars, drums and stadium-fuelled braggadocio. The immediate impression is more post-rock than indie rock, with sincere nods to avant practitioners like Sigur Ros and Radiohead. But contributions from the likes of Adrian Belew (King Crimson) ensure the mystical ambience is punctuated with blasts of electric psychedelia, and the NIN sound remains somehow recognizable beneath the surface. A hugely successful and beautifully otherworldly trip to outer musical realms. --Danny McKenna