Almost 20 years on, nothing in Trent Reznor’s illustrious discography has matched the bleak unity of purpose achieved on Nine Inch Nails’ tortured 1994 breakthrough The Downward Spiral. Significantly influenced by Reznor’s struggles with drugs, alcohol and grief, the album was an uncompromising document of mental collapse, a concept record which gathered industrial rock, techno and lashings of real pain into a story of a broken man driven to eventual suicide. Long since rehabilitated, married to new bandmate Mariqueen Maandig and in possession of an Oscar for his part in the score to The Social Network, today Reznor finds himself in a very different place. His recent project How to Destroy Angels just released a new EP, Omen, the sequel to a self-titled debut which met with a fairly muted response due to its similarly to NIN. His main project, by contrast, has been essentially offline since 2009, and Reznor shows few signs of wanting to scratch again at the wound opened by The Downward Spiral.
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No matter what era they take place or which actor is brandishing the Walter PPK, there are several essential components to any Eon-produced James Bond film: a cunning villain, loads of beautiful women, eye-catching gizmos, and an instantly familiar score. There is distinctive musical language that characterizes Bond’s cinematic adventures, credit for the development of which largely goes to composer John Barry, who scored a dozen films featuring Ian Fleming’s hero between 1962 (the franchise-launching Dr. No) and 1987 (The Living Daylights). It was Barry’s favoritism for certain musical keys and his repetition of that familiar guitar riff set to traditional orchestration—bolstered by a particularly muscular brass section—that has persisted through the adventures of six leading actors, and makes the audience immediately aware that no matter which actor is up on screen that they are watching a film about Agent 007 and not, say, Simon Templar or Jason Bourne or any other super spy you could care to name.
Lou Reed seems like the kind of guy whose house you don’t take your kids to while trick-or-treating on Halloween. Having spent an entire career appearing unapproachable and intimidating, he just doesn’t give off the sort of neighborly vibe that suggests he’d be particularly generous with the candy. Rather, I’d posit that Reed is more the sort who’d sooner pretend not to be home.
This bit of daydreaming got me thinking about the artist’s varied discography, one frequently filled with horror and fear. From graphic depictions of violence and death to ominous and grating musical atmospheres, Reed has numerous frightening tunes that, while unsuitable for anything but the most progressive and unconventional haunted houses, can comprise an alternative All Hallow’s Eve soundtrack for those who’ve developed a sort of lactose intolerance of the tiresome Danzig and “Monster Mash” listicles every year. Here are ten of them to consider:
Ted Leo has pretty much done it all in the world of indie rock. He cut his teeth in the New York/New Jersey hardcore scene in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, playing in Citizens Arrest, Puzzlehead, Hell No, and Animal Crackers before moving to South Bend, Indiana to attend college at Notre Dame. There he picked up an English degree as well as a new band, Chisel. Starting off as another lo-fi ‘90s indie guitar band, Leo’s growth as a songwriter and the group’s interest in mod music eventually led them to evolve to a more fully-realized sound. After moving from Indiana to Washington D.C., Chisel showed off that new sound on two stellar albums; 1996’s 8 A.M. All Day and 1998’s Set You Free. Despite successful tours with bands such as Blonde Redhead, the Dismemberment Plan, and Fugazi, Chisel called it quits in 1998.
Leo’s journey as a solo artist began the next year as he hit the road for what would become a nearly a decade of almost nonstop touring. This resulted in a challenging and often-frustrating solo debut in 1999, tej leo(?), Rx/pharmacists. The next year he recruited a full band for the Treble in Trouble EP, naming them the Pharmacists. At first the group was a rotating cast of friends from across the east coast who helped him tour and record. After releasing the stunning album The Tyranny of Distance in 2001, Leo recruited bassist Dave Lerner and drummer Chris Wilson and began touring (often joined by other musicians) as a set band. Hearts of Oak, released in 2003, followed in Tyranny‘s steps, featuring songs exploring the vast world of pop while firmly rooted in punk. Pruned to a power trio, the Pharmacists released the politically-charged Shake the Sheets just before the 2004 election and the broader, more expansive punk opus Living with the Living in 2007. Now touring as a four-piece with James Canty (of Nation of Ulysses fame) on guitar and Marty Key replacing Lerner on bass, they’ve slowed down considerably. Their most recent record, The Brutalist Bricks, came out in 2010.
I’m going to preface this list by making an admittedly contentious assertion, and that is: The Replacements are the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll band to have ever existed. I’ve expressed this belief to friends of mine before and initially they rebuff it as exorbitant iconoclasm. But think about it a little bit, and I’m sure you’ll find that it’s absolutely feasible (as they eventually do)—bands like Nirvana and the Beach Boys are exempt obviously for falling slightly outside the “rock ‘n’ roll” genus. Tom Petty is whatever (sue me). You are lying to yourself if you believe anything R.E.M. has ever done in any sense of the word “rocks” (although this doesn’t necessarily make it a bad band). Big Star can’t qualify because it was arguably always more of a studio-generated enterprise than a real band, and (Alex) Chilton and (Chris) Bell would likely be the first people to acknowledge that fact.
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"Whether we've seen or read the story before, we ache for these sympathetic, floundering people presented to us gravely and without cynicism, even when cynical themselves.READ the article