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Thursday, March 27, 2008

GHOSTS I-IV

Nine Inch Nails

Imagine a nearly two-hour Nine Inch Nails instrumental "album" like this: Each track is the sonic equivalent of a silver orb hovering in your living room. After vibrating, it explodes into a million shiny balls of mercury that splash to the floor before trickling, magnetically, back into a large round mass. This, in turn, slowly rises and restarts the process. Repeat 35 times. In fact, in the online version of this review, can we just repeat that sentence 35 times?

That's the terrific, horrific freedom of the digital age: There's room for everything. Industrial rocker Trent Reznor, a.k.a. Nine Inch Nails, is able to create a "soundtrack for daydreams" in 10 weeks, then self-release all three dozen tracks in multiple formats, including a $5 MP3 download.

There's too much here. Yet it's the most interesting NIN in years. On past albums such as 1999's "The Fragile," Reznor has contrasted gentle acoustic instruments with the violent pistons of studio machinery. It's the key to this four-part journey, which begins and ends with piano. In between, polyrhythmic beats bounce ear to ear. Ambient sound seeps through cracks in space. Robots pummel each other with sewer pipes. "24 Ghosts III" is driven by grinding synths, voice sampling and a kicking club groove. Minutes later, yes, that sounds like banjo plucked over collapsed star noise on "28 Ghosts IV" (even if the song feels a smidge like those "Rockabye Baby!" CDs -- you know, glockenspieled Metallica).

Could these tracks have been named more creatively? Yes. Are many essentially background intoxicants? Yes. But for five bucks, you get Nine Inch Nails without pop hooks or Reznor howling about loathing his innards.

-- Michael Deeds

DOWNLOAD THESE:"03 Ghosts I," "24 Ghosts III," "28 Ghosts IV"

CONSOLERS OF THE LONELY

The Raconteurs

"I'm bored to tears," sings Brendan Benson on "Consoler of the Lonely," the title track on the second album by the Raconteurs, the band he co-fronts with his much more famous fellow Detroit native, Jack White. That lyric would have been a fair criticism of the band's debut, "Broken Boy Soldiers," a merely competent exercise in garage rock that lacked both sizzle and sharp songcraft. The duo brings much more to the table for the superior follow-up, which is still rooted in hard rock sounds of the past, but is livelier, more varied and simply more fun.

The guerrilla release of the album -- it was available less than a week after the band announced it even existed -- may take some of the initial focus off the music, which is a bit ironic, since the point of the tactic was to avoid pre-release hype and present the songs as directly as possible. But once people stop focusing on whether this is another paradigm shift in how albums are released, they should find plenty to like.

"The Switch and the Spur" is a goofy, Western-flavored winner, complete with mariachi brass, a scorching White solo and bizarre closing mantra ("Any poor souls who trespass against us, whether it be beast or man/Will suffer the fight or get stung dead on sight by those who inhabit this land"). White's Delta blues influences and forceful wail shine through on the swampy "Top Yourself," while the fiddle-driven "Old Enough" recalls the breezy hoedowns on Dylan's "Desire." Even when the band sticks to the basics on straightforward rockers "Hold Up" and "Five on the Five," the crunch of the guitars is enough to make them memorable.

-- David Malitz

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Old Enough," "The Switch and the Spur," "Top Yourself"


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