An impulsive 10-week bro sesh—recorded at home, released onto the Net with no promotion and no record label—allows Trent Reznor’s loyal army of Diggsters and Halo opponents to rejoice, as the machine has officially been raged against. (Basic multiplication shows that the intrepid Nine Inch Nails made a healthy profit off $5 downloads, $10 CDs, and a limited-edition $300 future eBay staple.) Unfortunately, the gloomy repetition-as-ambience loops on the instrumental, 36-track, 110-minute Ghosts I-IV live or die on little beyond the accompanying 40-page PDF’s gorgeous graphic design (bleak and spacious, courtesy of resident NIN artist Rob Sheridan) and Trent’s name recognition (hell, he got my money).
The same democratizing Internet that leveled the playing field for the label-free TrentCo may be the same one that disassembles him: It’s only a matter of time before his fans find out how easy it is to discover more interesting electronic music. In the mid-’90s, Reznor alone was the way your average Hackers fan connected with the cutting edge, jacking in via his collaborations (Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert) and the signees to his Interscope imprint, Nothing (Autechre, Squarepusher). But now, just like Trent himself, everyone is one MySpace friend away from Ricardo Villalobos or Keith Fullerton Whitman or Richard Devine or Burial or Carlos Giffoni or Fuck Buttons or whomever. Not to mention it’s easier than ever to make your own electronic music. There’s photos of Reznor and collaborator Atticus Ross looming over mountains of gear—impossible tangles of wires, museum-ready rows of pedals, monolithic switchboards that might as well be manned by Lily Tomlin. But with some time and the right plug-ins, your friend might make a similar record on ProTools (if your friend could invite Adrian Belew to play a few ripping solos) that could escape a blind taste-test and grow to the heights of being one of the many records on Mush or Asphodel or Plug Research that don’t get written about.
Despite its anti-corporate model, Ghosts is a 110-minute endorsement for brand loyalty: For all the cues Reznor seems to be taking from Steve Reich and Eno/Byrne and Richard D. James, it’s basically a minimalist record that coasts on one’s predilection for NINoise. Rampant arpeggios, muted guitars that pop and sproingle, purple fuzz to suffocate an outro, distorted beats to score self-destruction, piano played slow and moody—it’s the same paintbrush he used on last year’s Year Zero, but now powering a lofty ambient record instead of a lofty Manson-style industrial record. Neither album reveals much beyond the fact that they can both survive constantly in medias Rez.