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As you all know, I have been a little nonplussed with Year Zero since it leaked last week. Though there are certain tracks on it that I think have been amazing since I first heard them ("Me, I'm Not", "Meet Your Master") my general feeling was that the album may have been a little less nuanced that what we've come to expect. A little bit of a thick mess, without the thought-out subtlety -- not necessarily lyrically (our man has always been a broad canvas, relatable artist on that front), but musically -- something that has always characterized the sound of Nine Inch Nails.

Quite frankly, I was worried that it was a rather simple record.

Last night, I went down to my local Virgin records at midnight and picked up the CD. I gave it one listen last night, and then another listen through headphones this morning.

Suffice it to say, that with such a low-end and noise-driven album, the limitations of mp3 compression have never been more apparent. Not only is this not a simple record, it is as nuanced and layered as anything we've ever heard from Reznor. It is as by turns as brutal and pummeling as his work on The Downward Spiral ("My Violent Heart"), and and as beautiful and rapturous as anything on The Fragile ("Zero Sum", a track which quite frankly I considered an absolute bust from the leaked track). The last two listens have truly been like listening to a totally different record entirely.

Perhaps it's simply the fact that this record does require you listen to it differently than any other Nine Inch Nails record -- gone are many of the broad hooks that helped him define the genre, and instead, the devil is in the details, but what a glorious, fucking-you-in-the-back-of-your-car devil it is.

The much discussed perspective shifts that I never heard before -- indeed, on the previous leaked versions, there seemed to be only one, strange cacophonous voice, nothing more -- are there, and they are executed in the most subtle of ways; you're never hit over the head that a different person is telling the story when you switch from "The Beginning of the End" to "Survivalism" to "My Violent Heart" to "The Great Destroyer", you simply are there in that place.

Lyrically, I suspect more will be revealed about the storyline being described via the ARG, but lacking this knowledge is not diminshing my experience of the record, as it had before; it's simply hungering me for more.

And this is to not even speak directly of said presentation of the album -- the artwork, the game surrounding it, the entire world that is being created as a platform for this music; nay, for this experience.

If any of you out there has ever had similar qualms about YZ post-leak, I urge you to immediately set those aside and buy the CD if you haven't already. It is a different experience entirely. It is the work, I dare say, of an artist at the top of his game, and what we are all being allowed to participate in now is not just a man putting out a record, it is a truly immersive multimedia experience the like of which I have never seen.

On an earlier thread here I'd posted how I'd become a fan of this band because pretty hate machine came into my life at at time when it spoke to me on almost every level, and gave me an external voice to identify with. I'm no longer in that place in my life, and I wondered if there was any statement they could make that would resonate with me today the way the first-person confessional had with my former self.

What I'm realizing is that the Year Zero experience does that exact thing. So all joking, satire, and tomfoolery aside, to Trent Rezor I'd like to say Job Well Fucking Done, Mission Accomplished, and thank you for the ride. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Year Zero is now available for sale at a retailer near you.

Edit: Today's Los Angeles Times has a great YZ Review up on their site, focusing particularly on the meshing of game and music, and the resultant experience. Good readin', kids.

Posted by Gabriel in gabriel's_ponderings | Permalink


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Argh, I have the CD in hand but no good way to listen to it til I get home tonight.

Gabriel, I experienced Pavlovian mouth-watering upon reading your review, and it's KILLING ME. Nice write-up.

So have you FINALLY accepted that "In This Twilight" is the best fucking song EVER?

Posted by: maise | Apr 17, 2007 9:20:50 AM

Gabriel, thank you for the thoughtful, in-depth synopsis of this record. I suspected that the MP3 versions out there would pale in comparison to the original work. Here's hoping an iPod can capture most of the subtle nuances..

Posted by: flyrabbit | Apr 17, 2007 9:46:12 AM

For what it's worth, when I encoded the record to my iTunes library, I did it at 320kbs AAC... the first time I've ever done so for a record, but to quote Doc Brown, I figured, What the hell.

Posted by: Gabriel | Apr 17, 2007 9:59:53 AM

Fabulous review man. I am absolutely DYING of envy that you guys already have your copies in hand. Bitches.

Posted by: Iris | Apr 17, 2007 10:12:26 AM

I don't know.

I'll reserve judgment until I play it tonight but if the mp3 encoding is at the core of the liking/not liking issue why does Trent/NIN sell stuff via iTunes? Right?

I used to be in a punk band where we made the audience sign a sheet of rules before we would play, one of which was "no noise or talking during the performance as this may drown out crucial subtleties in our music" -- we did it as a joke; am I to believe NIN's music is that deep? Come on.

Posted by: Angelman | Apr 17, 2007 10:16:46 AM

Well, Trent did crankily warn people on ETS that the leaked version was not the retail version.

I can't discuss audio technicalities, not knowing a damn thing about it, but I'm sure that has something to do with the difference.

Posted by: maise | Apr 17, 2007 10:27:59 AM

Don't willfully misread the post, Angelman.

Firstly, if we want to talk tech, it's common knowledge the mp3s sound like shit, even at high bit-rates -- this particularly effects the low end of the frequency spectrum; you and I've talked about this several times off-site. iTunes, incidentally, sells it's music utilizing the far superior AAC encoding codec, but thanks for your sarcasm.

Secondly, it's a simple matter of "A" vs. "B" -- one sounded muddy and messy; the other sounds layered and nuanced, precise and focused. I, personally, didn't hear the almost subsonic whispering before the breaks in "God Given", or the synth hits in "Survivalism". I heard a lot of compressed drone.

I very pleased to report that's not the case on the actual recording (though I fully expect for you to stick by your previous statements).

Posted by: Gabriel | Apr 17, 2007 10:42:50 AM

As someone who's buying it both on iTunes and from a brick-and-mortar, I guess I could use this discussion to do a bit of comparing and contrasting. Would that I had a nicer stereo system.

Posted by: emerald527 | Apr 17, 2007 12:31:30 PM

I don't think you will find the problems I was discusing with a properly encoded AAC version of the track, vs the mp3 rip, emarald, but I could be wrong.

Does this mean you're getting the iTunes bonus track? Let us know how it is!

Posted by: Gabriel | Apr 17, 2007 12:57:23 PM

What? What iTunes bonus track?

Posted by: maise | Apr 17, 2007 1:03:52 PM

OK - You do need the CD to fairly judge. The one song I have been listening to a lot, THE GREAT DESTROYER, sounds sooooo much better on the CD, it just hits you harder - the whole cd hits harder.

Doesn't make some of the songs better - but it is a HUGE difference.

My CD is broken or something - it was black when I got it, then turned white in my cd player (that's a joke - so don't get all snotty like you actually know what thermachrome is).

Posted by: Angelman | Apr 17, 2007 1:51:53 PM

Mine didn't do that (change color).

I think yours may actually be broken.

Posted by: Gabriel | Apr 17, 2007 2:06:40 PM

I haven't listened to the new record yet, but apparently it's SO GOOD that it will make Gabriel turn tail and take down his entry about how much he hated his experience last weekend. That's really saying something.

Back to the topic at hand, I find it very interesting that with all of the blood, sweat and tears that Trent puts into his work, coupled with the fact that he is a techie geek, he is willing to have things available as MP3s, considering everything that is lost in the compression/decompression process.

And I must have missed it if it was posted, but was the leak official or not? I was under the impression that it was legit, which makes it even more perplexing in light of these issues.

Posted by: JR | Apr 17, 2007 2:08:31 PM

Given that Trent, or "Teitan," I should say, sounded positively grumpy when talking about how people weren't listening to the retail version, I'm thinking that either the leak wasn't official, and Trent said, "Fuck it, you can all listen to the whole thing," or he was just resigned to the fact that it would leak eventually and said, "Fuck it, you can all listen to the whole thing."

That's just my theory, anyway.

Posted by: maise | Apr 17, 2007 2:13:49 PM

The tracks that were released on USB drives at venues -- "My Violent Heart", "Me, I'm Not", "In This Twilight" -- were obviously official leaks. These were all leaked as 320kbps mp3 files, the better for mass consumption, my dears.

The whole album leak, however, seems to have been an hodgepodge of files from various sources -- the USB tracks were included, "TBOTE" was from a radio rip, and the rest of the files were of unknown origin.

The inclusion of "TBOTE" radio rip and The Pastor's bitchery I think make it clear the whole album leak was most definitely NOT authorized. Subsequent versions did end up surfacing, including one ripped from an actual CD in lossless FLAC format, but these were not widely distributed in comparison to the other versions.

Posted by: Gabriel | Apr 17, 2007 2:36:10 PM

Gabriel didn't delete the rant, the US BUREAU OF MORALITY did.

Posted by: Angelman | Apr 17, 2007 2:37:02 PM

i, for one, freaked out when i pulled my cd out of my computer to find it was grey and had little writing and all that other nonsense on it, when i had definitely put in a black cd. it took me a full 5 seconds to realize it was heat activated, thermochrome deal and then acted like a hyper 3 year old and preceded to make creepy hand prints on it and basically geek out. it was awesome.
i resisted listening to all the leaked nonsense, wanting to hear it all, properly together and in the best quality, and it was soooooo worth it! this is my first listen, and as of right now there are lots of songs that will take a while for me to 'get', but i do love survivalism more every time i hear it, 'vessel' for some reason really hit me, 'capital G' is frikkin genius, and i do agree with everyone gushing over 'my violent heart' but howcome nobody told me 'another version of the truth' was so goddamn pretty??? i was not prepared for the piano goodness and almost cried.
and i cannot put into words how much i LOVE 'in this twilight'. i assumed because of the perspective of this cd there would be no real emotional involvement, but that song gets me every fucking time.
oh! and who else had fun dialing the 800 number on the back of the cd!?!?!?!
god i love NIN.
with a capital G.

Posted by: guru shabd | Apr 17, 2007 4:02:32 PM

Off-topic, but could this be our very own intrepid duo at the AIR handout?



Posted by: Muskles | Apr 17, 2007 4:18:55 PM

Fuck yes. Thanks for the linkage Muskles -- previous post restored and updated.

Posted by: Gabriel | Apr 17, 2007 4:27:58 PM

fyi, for all you comment trollers -- i've updated the post above with a link to a great L.A. Times Review.

Posted by: Gabriel | Apr 17, 2007 4:45:59 PM

Gabriel - we're "intrepid"!!!

Posted by: Angelman | Apr 17, 2007 5:33:29 PM

In truth Gabriel is intrepid, I am simply "along for the ride"

Posted by: Angelman | Apr 17, 2007 5:37:37 PM

That's a great review! I'll send people that link instead of trying, with rapid-fire patter and incomprehensible hand gestures, to explain what the whole ARG thing is about.

Posted by: Muskles | Apr 17, 2007 5:45:41 PM

Partner in crime. :)

Posted by: | Apr 17, 2007 5:46:44 PM

To answer your question from earlier, Gabe, I did indeed get a bonus track with my iTunes purchase: "Survivalism (Tardusted Remix)."

Imagine the song as it is, then imagine it pushed into the background, with the vocal and a single handclap becoming the focus. Every so often, individual elements will come up--synth line here, guitar line there--just to remind you of the original. Oh, and you can actually hear Saul's contribution to this track.

Speaking of reviews, I recommend you not read the New York Times review, if only because the writer missed the fucking point. (If it gives you the "please log in" runaround, I can link it from another source.)

Posted by: emerald527 | Apr 17, 2007 6:05:13 PM

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