Year Zero - Nine Inch Nails


Well, given what’s happened recently with most things I care about the most (privacy rights, netrights, free speech, whistleblowing, exposure of the massive security state apparatus, etc.), I felt it right to dedicate a review to Edward Snowden.

Nine Inch Nails’ “Year Zero” is a landmark for me. You’re driving along, and there are pebbles on the pavement that get kicked up by semi-trucks. Those are little albums. Maybe MGMT, one of Muse’s later offerings, or one of the recent spate of mediocre not-quite-underground-rap albums (A$AP Rocky et al.).

There are rocks on the side of the road, and you think “shit, that’s a pretty big rock.” Coheed and Cambria’s “3”. Interpol’s “Turn on the Bright Lights”. Ratatat’s self-titled. Big old rocks. (We’re either driving through southwestern Wisconsin or southeastern Wyoming; you pick)

The rocks are big, and you’re driving along, and shit, look at that goddamn prairie monolith on the horizon.

That’s this album.

Year Zero is a concept album, and it’s a successful one. It tells the story of a country in the midst of a hysterical tyrannical disembowelment. Really, it’s not so far off from the early days of the Arab Spring: people getting ripped out of their houses in the middle of the night; protesters kettled and taken off on anonymous vans never to be seen again; and a general climate of control through fear.

Only, it’s future America. Imagine the unpredictability and North Korean aspects Orwell’s 1984, the terror of Tiananmen uprisings, and the techno-activism of the Middle East, and now apply them to a hyper-religious, fascistic United States.

From what I understand, Reznor wrote the album in response his feelings toward the Bush administration’s increasingly authoritarian and religious direction.

Many of the songs are in first person, telling the story of the raids, the terror, the moral uncertainty rebels face when contemplating violent activism against a faceless machine-like theocracy. The beat production is pretty harsh for those uninitiated into music harder than Passion Pit, with lots of fun-house guitar whining, gristly buzz saw synth, and a sparse, creepy detuned character making you think you’re in some horror movie.

Are we in Trent Reznor’s “Year Zero”? No. There isn’t armed insurrection in the streets here. But I would qualify my answer with “have you been following the news lately?”

The reason people have and always will make art about this sort of thing is because we can’t seem to eradicate our species’ fascistic, controlling tendencies. There is something in our nature that yearns to be the slave, that yearns for security, just as there is something that yearns to control and to terrify.

But there is also something within us not satisfied to be the cruel masters or the chattel, but to be the helmsmen of our own ships and the tellers of our own stories.

This is why we record albums, write novels, spray graffiti, and defend our founding charters by leaking the ill-kept secrets of tired pedants and corrupt suits.

Sounds like: So Long As Men Die, Liberty Will Never Perish

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