Tag Archives: Trent Reznor

Guilty Pleasures — NIN Mashups

Trent Reznor NIN test

by Gabriel Valdez

I have a secret condition. I haven’t told anyone about it. You’re the first to know; I’m finally going to admit it here. You see, I have an addiction. I have an addiction to mashups.

I’m so sorry, I know it hurts the ones I love, but I just can’t stop. The premium stuff is so good, and the premium stuff is Nine Inch Nails mashups.

How deep does the rabbit hole go? In the spirit of a 70s Public Service Announcement, let me show you the worst case scenario: like the desolate underground cities of H.P. Lovecraft, built to worship unfathomable heathen horrors whose mere sight could drive a man insane, there’s an entire cottage industry out there that remixes NIN with My Little Pony songs.

This is the hard stuff. All but the most hopeless among us stay away from this. We know what madness lurks inside. People into this don’t just mess up their lives, they come out wholly different, as if time and space have ceased to matter and all is boundless shadow, a dead calm ocean that anchors you in place, the sun turned off, the stars pulled from the sky. Here’s a truly horrifying mashup of NIN’s “In This Twilight” and Fluttershy singing “So Many Wonders.”

What did I just make you listen to? You feel the insanity creeping in and yet…and yet, you want more. Curiosity’s the greatest addiction of them all. Fine then. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. Following are my five favorite NIN mashups:

“Shake It Off (The Perfect Drug)”

The newest kid on the block is one of the best. Most mashups just take the the bass and percussion from one song and tempo-adjust the lyrics of another on top of it. These are lazy as hell. This could have easily been one of those jobs, but there’s a lot more work that goes into creating a new duet from two existing solos.

There’s a clever musical humor here, too, saving a sort of Trent Reznor/Taylor Swift rap duet for the two-thirds mark where the rap solo has replaced what used to be the guitar solo. A good video mashup doesn’t hurt, and my favorite part of the video is that, when Swift starts to rap, Reznor reacts by giving up on life and taking absinthe. Meta-commentary, people.

What mind-numbing horror next awaits our vulnerable minds?

“Where is Everybody vs. ET”

Most of the dealers chucking out remixes stand on the corners of YouTube, enticing you with mashups as a way of hooking you into their own original material. What makes this remix different is that it involves frequent NIN member Danny Lohner. You can tell – it’s more complex and polished than most remixes out there. It’s not about being clever, it’s about delivering a brand new piece of music.

This is the harder-edged Katy Perry I’ve always wanted to hear:

But these are just practice rounds. I didn’t want to start you off on the really intense stuff.

“Come Closer Together”

The biggest danger in NIN mashups is that you’ll just take the percussion line from “Closer” and shove something else over it. Five minutes’ work, call it a day, everybody leave early!

Not good enough.

“Closer” is too easy and too iconic to just lay a vocal track over. Hell, that percussion line wouldn’t even work for “Closer” if Reznor wasn’t finding ever-more-complex layers to put on top of it. “Come Closer Together” just straight up moves, leaping from one moment of each song to the next. It barely sits still, blending each song’s most complex moments. The listener has to stay on his or her toes. It’s clever, evocative, and beautifully fuses together the musical styles of two completely different eras. Plus, it includes the immortal line, “I want to fuck you, right now, over me.”

“Closer in the Air Tonight”

Now you’re deep in it. I tried to tell you. This stuff will ruin your life! You don’t really want to know how Phil Collins’s iconic “In the Air Tonight” is combined with NIN’s “Closer,” do you?

Why would you want to know how two of the world’s most atmospheric songs are meshed? Why would you want to set your eyes upon such timeless mysteries? Why gaze into the abyss? It might do that thing. You know, gaze back.

Fine. When your family asks what’s wrong, what’s different, just keep this secret. Keep it safe. They can’t know. Wait, hold that thought – link them here, we could use the clicks.

This is another mashup that manages to take me on a musical journey, rather than just being a gimmick or earworm. Combining two of the greatest slow-build songs in history is fraught with musical peril. Instead of relying on either song’s atmospheric pace to dictate the mashup’s, the remixer breaks down each song and rebuilds them together. It’s not a fusion so much as a ground-up reconstruction, complete with red herrings and almost-climaxes that play with your expectations of what’s familiar.

“Only Billy Jean”

Rarely do mash-ups take the chance of creating an equal duet between two artists. Even more rarely is this done with Reznor, whose vocals are precise but whose attitude rarely fits into other songs. When that chance is taken, it’s usually not Michael Jackson chosen to play opposite Reznor.

The best mash-ups don’t just play the instrumentation in two songs against each other. They fuse the meanings of two songs to create something altogether new. “Only” becomes the subtext for “Billy Jean,” a sociopathic underbelly it hinted at but was always missing. “Billy Jean” gives “Only” the concrete motive for such an explosion of id. It’s a brilliant new creation, and one of the few mashups that’s as good as any of NIN’s or Michael Jackson’s songs on their own.

So concludes our brief trip into the vast plains of irresolute hopelessness, your mind shredded at the dark possibilities you’ve only briefly glimpsed.

What’s that? What did you say?

Where’s Carly Rae Jepsen?

Sigh, you’ve learned nothing in the end, have you?

The best mashups figure out how to get both vocalists in there at some point. As a duet, a call-and-response, even just getting the off-vocalist in as the chorus. That would’ve worked brilliantly for the “Call Me a Hole” mashup, especially given the storyline of Jepsen’s song. Picturing the two singers meeting at a party, hearing both songs as internal monologues…it’s just too perfect. But it’s just Jepsen’s music and Reznor’s voice.

As is, the Jepsen mashup is strong on concept alone, but leaves a lot on the table that could make it better. It’s a cute hipster moment to share with your kids one day so they can roll their eyes before going back to their rooms, pulling out their hidden Downward Spiral 30th Anniversary editions, dousing themselves in eyeliner, and downloading straight into their brain all those Clive Barker novels that President Bristol Palin outlawed after you voted for her cause you’re a Republican now. What’s that you’re making for dinner? Last Polar Bear Ever Stew? What an interesting name. I wonder what’s in it.

I can only hope your children don’t find those My Little Pony mashups. You don’t know how to communicate with them anymore. They grow up so fast. You don’t understand them. You worry. Were you ever like that? Have your polar bear, honey. That’s what Carly Rae Jepsen brings to the table. You hypocrite.

Guilty Pleasures is a new occasional series that will feature various writers’…you guessed it: guilty pleasures.

A Study in Sociopathy — “Gone Girl”

Gone Girl Pike Affleck

by Gabriel Valdez

Gone Girl is the movie you go to in order to have your mind race, and to keep yourself up well past any reasonable bedtime because you’re still thinking about and discussing it afterward. It’s the chill up your spine you feel not when something is lurking in the shadows, but rather when everything is in the light, smiling at you, and you still can’t shake the feeling that it’s not quite right.

The plot for director David Fincher’s latest movie can only be described in basics. A couple’s marriage goes south. She disappears. We see the evolution of their relationship via flashbacks from her diary. As these flashbacks turn violent, we begin to suspect that the husband Nick (Ben Affleck) has killed his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). The police, and the public, slowly turn on him.

To say any more would be to ruin any of the mystery’s dozen twists and turns. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, who also adapts the screenplay, Gone Girl is a tone poem of steadily mounting tension and gradually revealed half-truths.

While I’m a fan of the Fincher who directed Se7en, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, dark films that batter your defenses down and overwhelm you, Gone Girl is his gentlest delivery yet, and at the same time his least sentimental. The film is uncomfortably cold in the way a brutally honest truth is.

Gone Girl inspiration

Much of the film’s intrigue is in learning how every character starts off a sociopath, or learns (or remembers) to become one in order to survive and cope. In order to deal with a predatory media, the honest learn how to act honest for TV. The liars don’t need to; they already know how. Even the film itself adopts these traits – half the fun as a viewer is in realizing exactly how you’ve been played, by characters and by the filmmakers alike.

This may sound unappealing, and it would be in a lesser director’s hands, but Fincher takes a haunting snapshot of modern society. I’d be willing to call Gone Girl a dark comedy in places, but this is comedy that scars. The national media culture lampooned here, tripping over each other for exclusives and making up stories on the fly, bears close resemblances to our own. The film’s most disturbing elements have little to do with murder, and everything to do with the appetite we’ve developed for it. In one scene, a ridiculous Nancy Grace analogue and guest experts judge public figures they’ve never met by analyzing brief mannerisms, as if you can judge a human being’s makeup by how they raise their hand or nod their head.

Gone Girl is a Rorschach Test of a movie that everybody’s meant to fail. Like the ink blots you’re asked to assign shapes and stories to, Gone Girl can reveal where your head is in its mystery. How much do you base assumptions of guilt on facts, and how much do you base those same assumptions on personality, presentation, and narrative?

Gone Girl Neil Patrick Harris

This is complicated by using actors we’re familiar with more for their status than their talent. Affleck is a lightning rod, in the news more often as a celebrity than as an actor. Pike is best known for her role as a Bond girl in Die Another Day. Comedians like Tyler Perry (the Madea franchise) and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) hold serious roles, and are quite good. Even Emily Ratajkowski, best known for her role in Robin Thicke’s controversial “Blurred Lines” music video, plays a crucial supporting role. We can’t help but bring our presumptions about these actors into our experience watching the movie. Fincher knows this, plays with our assumptions, and never misses a chance to undermine you as a viewer.

Gone Girl is a masterful thriller that stuns with its complete ability to misdirect you. Staging, casting, editing, the musical score by Trent Reznor – Fincher may not want to coddle his audience, but there’s no mistaking that every detail here is built around the viewer. That’s what makes a consummate storyteller. Gone Girl is not the Fincher thriller I expected; it’s something far more subversive. There is no way to anticipate how it evolves, but its twists and turns are handled deftly and the film’s satirical elements are discomforting in all the best ways.

This is one to experience in the theater, with a picture three stories tall and the sound coming out of dozens of speakers. Be warned, it’s not a movie for kids.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Gone Girl have more than one woman in it?

Yes. It stars Rosamund Pike, an incredible turn by Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Lisa Banes, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Casey Wilson, Lola Kirke, and Sela Ward. In fact, women outnumber the men nearly 2-to-1 in the picture.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes. This would ordinarily be the section where I name the conversation or two that women have together in the film, but Gone Girl has too many to cite.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. The mystery of the film – investigating the murder of a woman – means that conversations center around Amy as often as they do her husband Nick.

The lone difficulty lies in Nick’s resentment of being molded by Amy over the years. It’s made a point in Nick’s mind, and I have no doubt that some viewers out there will hold sections of the film up as banners for Male Rights. This would represent a complete misreading of Gone Girl, however.

As I said earlier, everyone learns to be a sociopath by the end of the film, but Nick and Amy start that way. He writes for a men’s magazine, she writes online quizzes for women. The two are meant to represent what we teach young men and women to be, what we teach them to value. As such exemplary students of these lessons, they act the way those magazines always tell us to act.

As creepy, walking satire so dark it’s chilling, the murder investigation on hand interacts with the satire of our media and celebrity culture. So yes, you could insist that Nick is a Men’s Rights hero or a victim of Feminism, as some have, but it would mean you have a blind spot a mile wide when it comes to his character. If you do that, you’re either the most selective viewer I’ve ever met, or you have an agenda.

If anything, most of the women in Gone Girl are by the end forced to act counter to their natures. The film’s very critical of how society forces both men and women into preconceived roles. Most of the film is spent watching characters perfect the roles society expects them to play, regardless of who a character really is. I spoke with Eden, S.L., and Vanessa after the movie. We’ve each had an opportunity to see the film, and we all agree – Gone Girl is a deeply Feminist movie. It’s a vicious indictment of what movements like Men’s Rights Activism have made of us, the roles our most conservative critics expect men and women to play, and how those roles make us so much easier to exploit.

This is the “Come on in, I’ll make you a drink” at the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, extended into a frightening movie of people playing into the deep expectations our society mines.