I always get a little worried when an established artist ends up without a label and decides to distribute new material on their own. What usually follows are a couple of albums of masturbatory pap, a small-venue tour, and a fade into the "where are they now?" club.
When I read that Trent Reznor was self-releasing a triple album of instrumentals, I feared the worst. That's three strikes right there, an automatic fail, a go-directly-to-jail-do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200 idea if I ever heard one. So, with some trepidation I gave Ghosts a spin.
And then I remembered Reznor's previous instrumental explorations like the Quake soundtrack, and Still, his "unplugged" release, and the tracks that peppered The Fragile. Reznor actually knows what he's doing when it comes to creating dark, moody, even subtle pieces. There are moments reminiscent of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, songs awash in Enoesque soundscapes and Laswellian grooves. Reznor no doubt owes a serious debt of gratitude to Eno, and probably wouldn't shy away from the comparison. Unfortunately there is the occasional foray into low-fi guitar noodling that summons the ghost of Steve Albini. No one needs that.
Obviously there are no alt-rock anthems here, and an album like this won't put Reznor back in the spotlight. I am pretty sure he doesn't care either. He seems content to sit in his home studio creating music for his own enjoyment as much as anyone's. That's okay with me, because truthfully, I liked this better than Year Zero.
The first nine tracks are available as a free download here.