April 26, 2007

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Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero
Interscope, 2007

Bleep screech boop sca sca sritch bzzzzz bloopery makes good music on Year Zero. The opening salvo of what Trent Reznor promises is a larger project, this “soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist” can be taken in two ways. First, let’s call it a return to form; heavily echoing the Broken and Downward Spiral period of NiN while still evolving the tropes of industrial music, Year Zero can easily be called Reznor’s best work in a decade. We have sexy lounge static, stomping chanting industrial funk and deep bass grooves punk-tuated by digital riotry. All that anyone could ask for from a good NiN record.

On the other hand, Year Zero is a concept album, a sinister dystopian culture-critique of politics and religion dividing and deconstructing society and the turmoil that ensues. It’s also the keystone in a wildy spawling Alternate Reality Game (a la the Halo 2-associated I Love Bee’s campaign) that has included a myriad of Web sites, phone services, mysterious leaks of NiN material and music on USB drives at concerts and secret shows in L.A. that get “raided” by SWAT teams.

I’ll put all that aside, though, as it is the music that stands out as the most stellar achievement. Reznor has crafted a wonderfuly complex album that stands alone among his discography (regardless of its position in the multi-media art project thing that surrounds it). Is there a touch too much ambient background music? Sure (forgivable if the whole soundtrack angle is assumed), but it’s an A- at least. — Glenn Given