Intro: Trent Reznor likes to surprise people. With his industrial band, Nine Inch Nails, he has become known for brutal lyrics, bizarre antics and various public feuds. But his new release “Ghosts I” is his most surprising yet. On March 2 — just months since the band’s last release — it arrived on the Internet unannounced and absolutely free.
Pros: Another surprise: “Ghosts I” is entirely instrumental. So in place of Reznor’s angst-ridden screams, we’re left with an assortment of soundscapes featuring instrumentation that varies from subdued piano to driving synthesizer. Tracks range from the plodding to the frenetic, the spare to the lush, and no two sound the same. Impressively, the album still maintains flow.
Cons: In spite of this, “Ghosts I” doesn’t offer anything truly new. Nine Inch Nails is exploring the same old musical ideas as in the past.
Though the songs don’t overstay their welcome (with the notable exception of “6”), their brevity seems to come at the expense of being fully developed. The music simply doesn’t progress.
Definitive Track: No one track defines “Ghosts I,” but “5” is the album’s strongest. The melody features an entrancing, if lackadaisical, duet between an electric guitar and a piano, but the song’s percussion is what truly makes it shine. An offbeat (literally) conglomeration of ticks and clops are accented with ominous white noise and an eerie, unmistakable slurping.
Conclusion: Trent Reznor said that he wanted to dress “imagined locations and scenarios with sound and texture,” creating, “a soundtrack for daydreams.” With the evocative, aurally explosive tracks of “Ghosts I,” he largely succeeds, but the songs feel incomplete. Hopefully the subsequent volumes feature something a little more tangible.
Entertainment writer Nick Sheidies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.