An interesting album, and an example of artists moving with the times, Ghosts (link to official album website featuring free download of Ghosts I- the first part) by Nine Inch Nails first caught my eye with some minimalist advertising: posters with just the album cover (see left).
This album is both a continuation and a marked change from Reznor’s previous work: a continuation in that he has been exploring sounds and concept albums previously (in fact, the previous album Year Zero was a fascinatingly complex paranoia-themed concept album marketed primarily with an immersive Alternate Reality Game), a change in that it was the first album released after the band left Interscope Records after disagreements about commercialism.
Entirely instrumental, Ghosts is much more experimental than previous albums and features a variety of sounds, from heavy, industrial music to minimalist piano/xylophone to distorted, computer-created soundscapes. Reznor’s focus in creating the album was: “10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as… something”.
Another interesting aspect of this album was that it was released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license, enabling and encouraging others to work with the music, to remix and collaborate- to create and share (examples of such collaboration can be found here— Barett Hiatt, who calls himself Halo33– free to listen online). I think this should be seen as the forefront of a new musical movement, along with developments such as Radiohead‘s free experimental release of In Rainbows and the video design contest that followed that. With major record labels threatened by the propagation of music download on services such as BitTorrent, artists must re-think the way they conceptualize, create and distribute their music. As with Radiohead‘s video contest, NIN have created a user-created “film festival“, providing an oppurtunity for fans to interpret and manipulate the music and share this with others.
Being entirely instrumental, I find Ghosts to be very good background music: just turn on the iPod, turn off Shuffle and start the album– sort of like a soundtrack to your life. When I first got the album, I listened to it straight through, but I find it works extremely well as incidental music, especially on the train in gloomy weather. I would recommend this to anybody who wants something interesting to listen to, even if you hate the rest of their albums. And since the first half of the first CD of this double album is available for free (legal) download here, its well worth a shot. An interesting experimental album that also offers clues for the future of the music industry. 4 stars.