Listening to Ghosts I-IV, I am reminded of the eccentric ambient and electronic genius Richard D. James’ alter ego Aphex Twin’s 2001 album drukqs. Coming of age during the techno era of the ’90s, I was a huge admirer of James and his various musical noms de plume that included Aphex Twin, AFX and Polygon Window. I loved the way James played with noises and sounds. To me James is a modern day Mozart. Ridiculed by many for creating intelligent dance music to some, in reality through his many guises James was creating the soundscapes to our future. There’s no doubting that James was ahead of his time, mocked by the masses and respected by few.
One of those few, however, was a likeminded music soul mate from across the Atlantic, Trent Reznor. Reznor himself is an artist out of time that has been championed and condemned by the critics and his fans for his creative choices during his very eclectic and illustrious career. Who could forget after the top charting success of 1994’s Downward Spiral, he followed up the hit “Closer” by distancing himself from the mainstream by creating the beautiful masterpiece of 1999’s The Fragile. Even though The Fragile once again topped the charts, those who were expecting the sequel to Spiral were confused and somewhat conflicted. I wasn’t. The Fragile was the soundtrack to my days and nights working in a cubicle as a special orders clerk at a bookstore in San Antonio. I hated my job so much that I annoyed my co-workers by playing my cassette version of The Fragile over and over again. Listening to it gave me the courage to walk away from a job and a city that was lifeless and stifling.
It seems that every NIN release equates to a life-changing event in my life. Ghosts comes in a time when I have found peace in L.A. I had been moving around trying to find my place in my world. Through out all of my many journeys, Trent’s Nine Inch Nails have been there for me, from a distance, during many difficult periods in my life. So when I heard that Trent was releasing his first album without the confines of a record label, I quickly pre-ordered a copy and offered my support to this artist whose creations have influenced me for just about 20 years.
As I ordered Ghosts, I read that Trent’s new album would be full of instrumentals, a soundtrack to daydreams. I was intrigued. Saying this and being a writer, I have to state a disclaimer that I am normally not a fan of instrumentals. I love words, especially grandiose inspiring lyrics that grab you as the soundtrack plays along with the rhythm that is the vocal instrument in the band.
Remembering how much I adored the wordless music from Aphex Twin, as I listened to Ghosts, drukqs came to mind. Each song from that album brought up scenes and emotions in my mind when I first heard it waiting at Louis Armstrong Airport terminal in New Orleans. What I started doing with each title-less track was naming each song. (This is something that my buddy Matt did for his copy of Ghosts.) With this concept in mind, listening to Ghosts is like contributing to your very own music version of Choose Your Own Adventure. The amazing thing is that everyone’s foray into Ghosts will be a unique and personal experience.
The first track I dubbed “Distorted Stillness.” I loved the way the solitary piano keys were invaded by echoing high pitched sound effects towards the end of the song. I recommend that you not only name that tune but listen to Ghosts with headphones, so you can experience every little sound that Trent Reznor and his crew have created for your lifted enjoyment.
Track two, or “Anticipatory Invasion,” sounds like the eve of an invasion. It’s like that moment leading up to a climax and you can feel something about to happen, the fuzzy noises clashing with the beautiful piano keys. A preface to the “The Day the Whole World Went Away” from The Fragile, track three is the first of many appearances by guest guitarist Adrian Belew. I dubbed this song “Ape Quest.” It sounds like a modern day theme for an unmade Planet of the Apes movie. I totally dig Belew’s funky riffs and the Middle Eastern vibe floating through out.
Track four “Solo Fury.” The guitars sound like explosion of anger. This one conjures up the feeling when someone has pushed you too far, you’re mad as hell and you just blow up with fury. Track five is “Stalking the Wetlands.” The heavy breathing reminds me of the effect that Depeche Mode used in Music for the Masses “Little 15.” That same breathing reminds me of a stalker watching someone outside from afar. The piano also echoes the same keys from “Closer.”
Track 6 is “In Search of Fortunes.” Track 7’s “Zero Funk” sounds like an outtake of Year Zero. Track 8 is “Blizzard Fear.” Imagine being lost in a blizzard with arctic wind and snow attacking your face as you struggle for breath. Track 9 is “Mourning with Pong.” This one is like playing a video game after your father’s funeral while listening to his favorite classical radio station in his honor. Track ten begins Ghosts II with the very eerie “March of Gothic Goblins.” This one reminds me of this one track off a Ghostly Sounds album where the sounds of goblins would appear and scare the crap out of me. Track eleven is “Art of War Room Seduction.” Track 12 is the “Last Taste by the Window.” The feeling of watching your lover walk away as you savor their taste in your mouth while replaying the last time you were together in your head.
After a while your titles begin to tell the story for you. Track 13 is “Midnight Aphex Breath.” Track 14, “Devo Redux,” is one of my favorites; I especially love the shredding guitar solo by Belew. Track 15, “Tumbling Hash in Berlin.” Track 16 “Delirious Downtown Chase.” Track 17 is “underground fetish girls.” Track 18 is “Autobahn arousal.”
Ghosts III starts with Track 19 the very upbeat and percussion layered “Screams of a Dominatrix Scars.” Track 20 is “Swarm of the Quarantined.” Track 21 is “Japanese Scheme.” I love the layering of instruments on Ghosts III especially on Track 22’s “Cumpleaños Flashback” which actually includes a dulcimer in the soundtrack. You can feel the excited fury within the riled up riffs in Track 23 “Cumming’s Revenge.” Track 24’s “The Bleeding of Head Hunted” brings back the Front 242-esque industrial rhythms that I loved so much back in the day with the movie sampled effects to match. Track 25 follows with “Rigor Mortis Frequency.” Track 26 is “Free-bass Bust.” Ghost III closes with Track 27’s the guitar anthem “Blazed in Leather Boot Remission.”
Ghosts IV begins with Track 29’s acoustic guitar filled “Lack Water Blues.” This one reminds me of the unplugged laments Trent made on Still, the bonus disc that accompanied the live document All That Could Have Been.
Track 30 is the very funky piano based “Howling Intruder.” By this point you begin to recognize some of the familiar beats and sounds that Trent played with earlier on reappear on the last phase of Ghosts. Track 30 is the beautiful strangeness that is “Punch Stop Love.” Track 31 brings the metal with “Nightmare Pesada.” Track 32 is “Sudden Outbreak.” Track 33 “Gavel of the Gods” sounds like an ode to Einstürzende Neubauten.
Despite its acoustic flourishes, Track 34 “Dummy Purity” echoes a kinetic influence from Portishead. As Adrian Belew once again shines his mighty riffs on Track 35’s “Narcoleptic Shakedown,” Ghosts closes with the very somber “Exhausted Vision Rise.” The last track reminds me how wickedly the morning sky would look after beating the night and stumbling into bed wasted to the sound early morning light.
As the last notes of Ghosts faded away, it reminded me of that timeless quote from William Blake. “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” If Aphex Twin’s drukqs was a precursor to swallowing the excess than Ghosts is the ultimate trip. I’m sure even Aphex Twin himself, Richard James, would enjoy this rhythmic excursion.
Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile
Aphex Twin – drukqs
Depeche Mode – “Pimpf”