Whilst the focus of The Sound Not The Word might be on the underground, let’s be real for a moment: Nine Inch Nails are one of the best bands around. There’s good reason that they’re so popular, with a catalogue of accessible singles and well-crafted albums. Yet there’s also a wealth of B-sides, remixes, and soundtrack contributions worth taking note of too, that most fans might not check out. To keep things accessible to all, I’ve intentionally limited the songs on this list to ones that can be streamed via Spotify, and excluded those that appear on standard CD versions of albums. Sure, that vinyl-only version of The Fragile: Deviations 1 contains some excellent versions of songs, but at about £65 a copy, it’s hardly something most people will buy. So, with that in mind – and because they’re one of my favourite ever bands, and why run a blog if you can’t write about what you love? – here’s what I feel are five of the best NIN deep cuts, presented in chronological order of release.
The solo project of Josh Graham, IIVII (pronounced “ivy”) have returned from 2015’s outer-space ambient fiction of Colony, with further tales from beyond our world. But whereas Colony told a tale of loneliness that emphasized the void between the stars, new album Invasion draws its fear not from being alone, but from learning that there is some kind of intelligence out there, and it does not come in peace. Though it is more immediate than its predecessor, and its narrative is more obvious, neither of these elements are to the detriment of Invasion, which is a strong continuation for IIVII.
Sometimes, there is comfort in the darkness. There are records out there whose content speaks of pain and misery, and wants you, the listener, to know that you’re not alone; to know that things will get better.
How We Lived isn’t one of those albums.
On their second full-length together, the duo of Heinali and Matt Finney have crafted something that may move with a damaged grace and sense of warped beauty; and there may be sounds that shimmer and dance in the haze; but more than that, How We Lived is an album heavy with the sounds of deep-seated sorrow, rooted in the everyday experiences that slowly build up until the burden feels insurmountable. It is a challenging listen, intense in a more emotional rather than musical sense, but it is also a deeply rewarding one, where the void in your soul may stare back at you, but if you’re strong enough to avoid looking away, How We Lived makes for one hell of an experience.
Fantom is an album that is far from easily accessible. The fourth release by solo artist Forlatt, fantom is an 86 minute journey of solitude and misery, with the music wrapping the listener up in layers of melancholia. It is hardly an album that can be listened to casually, containing as it does some incredibly long songs (three run to over fifteen minutes each) that unfurl over time, gradually revealing their secrets and depths. Yet it is hard to resist its charms, as the moods contained here – as sorrowful as they are – are filled with a kind of beauty, that is balanced with enough moments of post-black metal aggression to ensure that fantom never risks feeling stagnant.
If you’re in the market for something to get sad to, then Vases is just what you’re after. The collaboration between dark electronics musician Wet Nurse. and Matt Finney is bleak, depressing, and possessed of a certain beauty. This is music for staying up late, wondering where it all went wrong and feeling powerless to do anything about it. And yet, as unappealing as that may make it sound, there’s something about Vases that makes it easy to listen to for hours at a time, sinking in to its dark, melancholy embrace.
Following on from Part I, which can be read here, here is the second installment of my favourite releases from this year; still in alphabetical order, and still full of awesome, wonderfully diverse music. The top five will follow soon, along with a few other reflections on the past year. But in the meantime, enjoy!
And so here we are, fast approaching the end of 2016, and what a year it has been. Leaving aside all that has happened in the world at large, there have been plenty of worthwhile releases in the world of underground music (and even some decent mainstream ones, too). Over these posts, I’ll be picking out some of my favourites – albums, EPs, and demos that kept me coming back for more, and which have shaped my impression of 2016 in a musical sense. The first few posts will go through records in alphabetical order; it’s only once we reach the end that I’ll assign a ‘top 5’, and also give a brief overview of some releases that didn’t quite make the cut, and even a handful of mainstream highlights. Just because you can buy something in a HMV, it doesn’t always mean it’s shit.
The usual disclaimer applies – these are my favourites, which means they are not necessarily the best records of the year. There’s far more released than I can keep track of, and to hold even 25 records up and say “these are the best” feels dishonest. And, as you might expect, there is some cross-over with my summer ‘best of 2016 so far‘ list. But, whatever. Enough of this. On to the first part of the list.