A few years ago I shared my list of the top ten Nine Inch Nails songs. Well, as it is bound to happen from time to time, it’s time to revisit the list. Some songs are off the list, others are added, and new entries are worked and squeezed in alongside modern classics. This list is short on obvious hits, so if you’re expecting it to be a countdown of their biggest hits, you’ll end up mistaken. Either way these songs are all just as relevant to a nin fan as some of the other more obvious ones. Today to celebrate the upcoming three night Saenger stand by Reznor and the boys, I give to you the Ten best nin songs. Enjoy!
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10 LESS THAN: ADD VIOLENCE
Clearly a newer song on the list, and perhaps a surprise to those reading, but trust me the song deserves a spot on this list. It has everything a nin fan could want. The beats are as great as the production value, but the magic lies in the lyrics. Initially thought to be a rebuke of our current trump issues, the song instead revolves around the general attitude of right and left wingers, who thrive to push their agenda, whether good or bad on the mass population. I imagine the heat coming from the pot when listening to this song, and the dialogue throughout is genuine and also heartbreaking. I believe the moral of the song is not to force our wants on opposing viewpoints, but to instead try to be the best we can be, and to of course not be Fucking assholes to those if there’s another way around it.
9 IN THIS TWILIGHT: YEAR ZERO
One of my favorite time periods of being a nin fan was without doubt the YZ ARG campaign. Finding new clues all over the internet, looking at images in a post apocalyptic United States was the perfect way to get fans pumped. This song is more hopeful again, but in its hopefulness there's a certain amount of hesitance. The album is about a very close future that we could see ourselves involved in if we keep on with our current lack of priority and care for our system and care of our environment. It’s a grim fucking place. I always imagined this song as an amazing opener, but for people who saw the “ Lights in the Sky” tour, it also is an amazing closer.
8 RUINER: THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
I really don’t know what this song is about, but it reminds me again of dominance. TDS album as a whole is about a man slowly losing his sanity and seeking destruction, in many different forms. The great part about the album is that you’re never sure exactly at what point his mind betrays him, and if you’re even hearing the same person. As the album progresses (This song is right in the middle) you can clearly see the forces working against our main character, but he simply is no match for whatever he’s facing. Some albums slow down towards the middle. It helps to give listeners a rest. For this album, a rest is simply not an option. There’s a reason this album is still one of the best from the 1990’s. Reznor brought us, and showed us a place that was cold, and wretched, and we loved him for it.
7 1,000,000: THE SLIP
From the moment of the second track, “1,000,000” you feel right back inserted into the world the band fans have grown to love. It's not the best regarded album per se, but the tour that came with it was one of the best productions I've ever seen. Multi- layered screens filled the “Lights in the Sky Tour,” along with two full hours of chaos, and tracks from every album. It encompassed all of what Reznor wanted the band to be on the road. Honestly, seeing it the three times I was fortunate to was something I'll never forget, and I'm willing to bet a lot of other people feel the same way about that stage production.
6 GAVE UP: BROKEN
Of all the songs on the violently fast paced “Broken,” “Gave Up” is likely the most powerful. Again using an ever aggressive beat as the backing track, the track is pushed forward by the early minimum usage of classic Reznor whispered spoken word. By the chorus though, the track is operating on all cylinders, using the drum machine in conjunction with the overall beat and Reznor's “steady systematic decline” of anger to propel the song. On this list it comes in at number six, and proves an early indicator of the kind of layered, noisy brilliance Reznor is capable of. A true classic track.
5 SOMEWHAT DAMAGED: THE FRAGILE
Of all the great opening songs in the Nin catalogue, this certainly has to be among the best. The rising drums, accompanied by the ever evolving synth beats makes for a marvelous beginning track for the phenomenally deep “The Fragile.” The song signifies tragedy at the realization that the world isn’t what it’s supposed to be. That we can always try to posses the best qualities and be the best people we want to be, but sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. We’re all “Somewhat Damaged,” and because of that knowledge we have, the song is all the more powerful and regrettable in its content.
4 HURT: THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
Probably the best known track off “TDS” also happens to be the track that concludes the record. To this day “Hurt” remains a poignantly tormented song, with Reznor singing more clearly and vulnerable than he has throughout the record. The chorus also happens to be infectious, and very easy to sing along to embrace the pain this man is feeling. It’s a cathartic song on the record, but it’s also cathartic to the listener who has been put through a myriad of person torment on their journey through this very good, but very deeply troubled record. Thanks for reading.
3 MARCH OF THE PIGS: THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
March of the Pigs,” to this day, remains a rabid favorite among fans and it’s inclusion during shows has become the standard by which you measure the intensity of the crowd, and the band overall. It’s a shorter, more intense song than many of their others, but in this immediacy the song is able to move like a beast, exacting it’s revenge on those who have spurned it. It’s wildly chaotic with no give, but it’s because of that quality and it’s placement in the tracklisting, it provides its best assets to use. You get crazy vocals, gut wrenching beats and drums, and the wild brutality that is nine inch nails in its most raw form.
2 WISH: BROKEN
Another angsty song, I see a pattern. This is always a sure fire killer at the concerts. I may be wrong, but for this song I believe they have consistently used similar lighting patterns at every show I’ve seen. It’s a whirlwind, and the video, set in a very dark, slavery like cage, is appropriate. Also, seeing them perform this song alongside Dillinger Escape Plan at Bonnaroo 2009 was the perfect amount of destruction. Dillinger clearly has learned well how to wreck instruments
1 WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER: THE FRAGILE
This album suffered from what I call the Pinkerton effect. It’s a brilliant album, but for the more casual fans wanting a Downward Spiral 2, it simply wasn’t enough. Having said that, the Fragile builds on the sounds and technologies of TDS and goes further. For one, this song is one the first time we hear anything even remotely positive and reassuring. It’s not a mellow song, but it accomplishes its tasks. I’ve probably heard this song two thousand or so times, and it still makes me smile and giddy like a child. It overshadows all of the other songs on the album, yet still it’s one of the least played songs in the NIN live catalogue. Years ago I remember an interview where TR said it was the best song he ever wrote, and he knew he couldn’t do it justice in concert, so he let it be. Maybe one of these days I can stop spending endless amounts of money seeing them live. But first, I must have my WITT live.
If you aren’t aware, the National aren’t a very lyrically happy band. In fact they aren’t even the slightest bit optimistic. In the end though, that’s what makes them so effective and amazing to listen to. For me it really is true that the music that makes the most difference in someone’s life is the music that evokes emotion, and the National are clearly one of those bands. After seeing them for the first proper time at Bonnaroo (I heard them at Lollapalooza 08 across a field) I can at least at the power the music has in a live setting, and how much inspiration I got from the increasingly dark content of the songs. Here’s a list of my ten favorite songs. As always, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy it.
10 TURTLENECK: SLEEP WELL BEAST
By the time the band got around to making “Sleep Well,” the experimentation had grown leaps beyond what we heard off the early albums. They embraced their rock side more here, as well as taking some cues from the Grateful Dead, which members had mentioned listening to during the making of this one. The song itself is loud, with a great but chaotic vocal section. With a runtime of just under three minutes, “Turtleneck” quite possibly might be the band's most in your face, rock oriented track.
9 SORROW: HIGH VIOLET
The opening line is depressing, and it’s the kind of depression that sticks with you. It reminds me so much of my high school years. For those who aren’t aware, I have stuttered all my life. It was particularly bad in high school. Taunting, fights, and depression were the notable things going on during this time. Quite frankly it was terrible. This song reminds me of that. Of the hopelessness you feel at a young age when you have little or no control over your emotions. Speaking on the music, I love that the song never fully gets going. Berninger’s vocals are always low, and with the instrumentals swaying peacefully under him, it helps make the song a cathartic, emotional release.
8 I SHOULD LIVE IN SALT: TROUBLE WILL FIND ME
So much of Berninger's vocals relay feelings of discomfort and pain that it’s hard to know when he’s trying to be romantic, or simply not dark. “I Should Live in Salt” has tons of regret filled into its spirit and energy, with Berningers trademark soft but harsh voice disowning his pain and feelings for the clarity of regret at the difficult but ultimately wrong choices that have been made.
7 GRACELESS: TROUBLE WILL FIND ME
The song starts in a rush and keeps up the pace the entire song. I imagine a person racing endlessly through a giant, unmarked drug store, trying to find the perfect pill to fix whatever ailment he needs fixing. I always wonder if the members of this band are religious, because those themes come up pretty often. Part of me thinks that yes, because so much of the allure of this band is hope in a hopeless place, and of the redemption you can find in whatever happiness you seek. The other part of me looks at it like maybe the characters in these songs resent whatever higher power is actually around, because of the pain they’ve inflicted upon them.
6 APARTMENT STORY: BOXER
Again, I have no idea what this song is about. But I know I love it. The drumming, vocals, and the guitars all blend in perfect unison. Not only are the guitars so in sync with each other that it’s ridiculous, but it makes perfect sense once you know the guitar players are brothers. For those wondering, the bassist and drummer are also brothers. The chorus of “ Stay inside til somebody finds us, do whatever the TV tells us” also clearly explains the want of a man who is both fine with being controlled by the outside world, but someone who also wants to be saved from that same world by someone who understands him. This is just my opinion, but that’s some pretty deep, impacted feelings right there.
5 LITTLE FAITH: HIGH VIOLET
Little Faith,” is a remarkable song that unfortunately is rarely played live. The chaos and thickness of the opening falls right into an almost still like orchestral piece, and Matt’s voice paints a picture of a character walking through “New York and the rain’s coming down.” It never really takes off musically the way you think it might, but that’s where the charm of the song lies. Once again the drums are on point, but the instrumentation mvp on the track really belongs to Dessner brother’s. What Aaron and Bryce do here is elevate the emotional in the musical sense while allowing Berninger and company to put forth energy that improves the track. It’s one of the better tracks on “High Violet,” and it’s well placed in the structure and order of the record.
4 MR. NOVEMBER: ALLIGATOR
So many of their songs harken back to highschool pains, and I completely understand. That is a difficult time for many of us. I completely understand the concept of having a clear idea of what is going to happen, then when the moment gets there it ends up being totally fucked. The simple, quick chorus of “I won’t fuck us over” is a chaotic entrance by a person who has absolutely no idea what is actually happening. Seeing this live, it’s rough, and tight, and emotionally draining. Berninger has said in interview that most of the character’s in his songs are just variations of what is happening in his head, so that makes the songs a little difficult to understand, but as far as fast paced National songs, this is easily the best one for my money.
3 TERRIBLE LOVE: HIGH VIOLET
The first song off the album, and it sets the pace for the rest of the record. It’s just a bad ass song that opens with a flourish of singing by Berninger and color brought to you by the remaining band members. It’s lush, and poignant, and has a lot of emotional weight to it. It’s fucking amazing. Once again, I have little idea of what it’s actually about, but this is truly a song that just stays with you, and in my case, there’s no other song by this band that resonates so much in my soul. The last rambles by Berninger of “ It takes an ocean not to break” showcase a strong person who is trying very, very hard to stay afloat in a world where it’s hard to understand. But in the end, that’s why it’s so important to stay positive. You can’t let it get you down, or you’re a goner.
2 FAKE EMPIRE: BOXER
First song I ever heard from this band, and it’s easy to see why I was drawn to it. So often in “ballads” the message is rough at the start, but gradually it brightens up. That doesn’t really happen here. The piano and the very low key guitar playing help to make the song more intimate, while still bringing in every member of the band. Not every band can do that. The horns at the end remind me of the brilliant way Neutral Milk Hotel uses horns. I don’t think the National were trying to evoke NMH in any way, but I’m just saying more bands should try to incorporate horns.in making “Fake Empire”, the National collected all the unknown sadness of our society and bottled it up, in the process making an eye opening song even more thoughtful.
1 VANDERLYLE CRYBABY GEEKS: HIGH VIOLET
For the record let me just state that High Violet is so far the best album of this band’s career. It’s basically perfect. It’s the magnum opus of this band. This song, the final and climactic anthem of this album, is as powerful as it is confusing. Music doesn’t always have to be explainable though. It’s better to let the audience decide what the song is about, and enjoy the song from their own perspective. That’s what I love about the National. They aren’t quite the Inception of the music world, but so much is unexplainable and it still works. I always think of the Katherine Dunn book “Geek Love” and how those characters are vile, unlikable, and are all just trying to geek out a decent, comfortable life surrounded by all the shit and vomit of the world in which they were created. Now it’s likely no one else has made that connection, but that’s OK, because everyone in the world draws from different events.
In the summer of 1999, the concept of downloading and album leaks were things that didn’t play into my everyday thinking. Along with Dennis and Miles, my two best friends at the time, we would head over to our favorite music store everyday to hang out and listen to music. One day we popped in and an employee, who was a really awesome dude actually, was blaring this album. It wasn’t slated to be released for like two months, but somehow he had the album. Apparently it had “ leaked,” and knowing we were all giant Deftones fans, had made copies for us to take home.
For the following months this was our go to album. Driving around, being young kids with the world before us, the album seemed to changed our lives. I can’t speak for my two friends, but this album had a monumental impact on my life. It changed the way I thought about music, and exposed me to a different set of sounds than I had primarily been listening to at the time ( Korn, Limp Bizkit…)
The Deftones had already been a band I loved, but this album was the one that stuck with me the most at the time. From the opening track “ Feiticeira,” you can sense that these guys were trying to make an album to branch out of the already tiresome genre of Nu Metal.
By this point, bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit were big time names, and others like Orgy, P.O.D., and Papa Roach were heading up the ladder. The sound wasn’t difficult to master. Throw in teenager angst, crunchy, or “hard” beats and you basically have an album. It’s clear, even now, why most of those bands are long gone, and why the Deftones are still getting bigger with each release.
Since turning the corner with this album, they’ve consistently made amazing albums that merge all kinds of genres. Yet before WP, the band seemed to have perfected the brand of heaviness they would later become known for. WP, again, is where the template opened up to allow more. It’s still extremely aggressive at times, but also shows a certain beauty and delicateness to it. Songs like “ Digital Bath'' are just beautiful, while still having a heavier overall tone to them.
“Bath” is also one of the first times you heard Chino Moreno aim for types of range out of his vocal cords. While not a traditional voice, it’s still one of the most recognizable in music, to me at least.
Track three, “Elite” has more of the Deftones fans of the first two albums would be familiar with. It’s very heavy, and the guitars of Stephen Carpenter, and the drumming of Abe Cunningham are ultimately what makes this a stand out track. I’ve always wondered why this song isn’t played more live, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. It just seems like a perfect song for the live setting. Anyway, even with this track you can tell that the band is really trying to branch out and make a truly unique album.
“RX Queen,” written about Moreno’s at the time wife, opens with creepy, low lying bass lines courtesy of Chi Cheng, and it’s those wandering bass-lines that help give the song focus, as well as guide it further into a more industrial, beat driven area. The record also showcases the sampler, or DJ in the band, Frank Delgado, for the first time. He toured with the band on the Around the Fur tour, but White Pony was his first proper recording with the band.
You could say in many ways this is Delgado’s album. The lush layering, interesting mix of background sounds, as well as just a darker undertone makes this record stand out. Frank Delgado may have not made the Deftones what they currently are, but without his involvement it’s hard to say what the following albums would have ended up sounding like.
“Street Carp” is next, but honestly I think it might be the weakest of the tracks on the album. It’s still good, and the placement on the record is brilliant, but maybe that’s what makes it so difficult. Coming after “Rx Queen” and before the massively underrated “ Teenager” it’s dose of heaviness but just feels overshadowed by the surrounding songs. “ Teenager” arrives next, and it’s likely one of the calmest, trippiest, most beautiful songs the band has in their catalog.
I always picture this song as a sort of time capsule of what kind of love was once present in your life, and also a journey of self exploration. I nearly always imagine this song being in the film “ Blade Runner.” Rachel, played by Sean Young, staring out on the post utopian world, raining running down the windows. It’s a perfect example of a science fiction love song, and for me, it’s one of the major revelations of the band's career.
“Knife Prty” then expands with density , and one of the best things about this is the lyrics. Moreno has the skill in writing that a lot of other vocalists simply don’t. He can write about real, passionate things, while also venturing into completely unknown territory. The female vocals at the end are a dream come true. Most bands wouldn’t dare to venture this way when they already have a built in fan base, but they really really should. After the female vocals spill out of control, the mythological undertones of the song erupt in a beautiful, organized mess of sounds.
“Korea, ” which was included in most of the bands “OzFest” sets from a year before, is easily the heaviest, most angry song on the album. That’s not to say it’s a bad song. On the contrary, it’s a really fucking good song. This is the Deftones how they sounded on the first two albums, with a little glimmer into where the band is headed next. The samples and turntable work by Delgado also give the song an interesting contrast to Moreno’s screaming, crazy vocals, sweeping in and out of the intensely heavy guitar and drum work.
The last three tracks are all amazing and important. They perfectly wrap up a brilliant, landmark album and remind you why this is one of the best modern rock albums of the last twenty years. “ Passenger,” featuring that guy from A Perfect Circle, follows “ Korea.” If you read my list of my favorite Deftones songs, you remember this higher up in the list . If you love the band, likely you think the same way.
After nearly fifteen years and probably a thousand listens to not only the album, but the song, it still stands out as one of my all time favorites . It’s just a level of mastery that’s rarely seen. Also, Maynard very rarely contributes to the work of other bands, so it’s still quite a feat that they got him to take part in it. The song is just colossal on all fronts. It’s Still one of the songs I can play all the way through then go back and listen to it all over again.
Following that isn’t easy, but they clearly knew what they were doing with the sequencing of the album. “ Change,” the first single and likely one of the few songs general music lovers will recognize, follows “ Passenger.” I still remember seeing this video for the first time. The whole house party vibe, and the band playing as the house slowly burns, still stands out in my head. The song itself is perfect, and it’s a clear choice for the song that introduced the world to what to expect from this album. Now, putting the song so late in the album is tricky, especially when it’s the first single. Most bands just simply don’t do that, but I guess that’s the risk you have to take. For me, the momentum of the last four songs on this album is what makes it so brilliant. The strength behind every song is clear, but those last songs are the cherry on top.
The proper album comes to an end in a beautiful, emotional ride called “ Pink Maggit” Two special editions would later come out, one with a different opening track ( “ Back to School” ) and a song that follows this one ( “ Boy’s Republic” ) but for the purpose of this article we won’t be discussing them ( Check them out though if you haven’t, they’re equally awesome). Anyway, this song quietly builds for the first two minutes, then breaks into the signature Deftones sound, while at the same time releasing all the tension that has built up over the previous ten songs. Once again the lyrics are one’s that suggest growth and hardship, but it’s this ending that ties up the amazingness of the album. Once again, it show’s what the band has learned, as well as gives you a glimpse to what roads the band might be venturing down with subsequent releases. The remaining seconds float by with a dissonant array for layers, textures, and feedback, but it serves its purpose wholeheartedly. Even with the album drawing to a close I can understand why it’s only gotten better over time. Rest in Peace, Chi Cheng.
“We’d like to thank you all for wearing masks and caring about each other- We’ve been out of work for two years now and are so happy to be able to be doing this again.”
Those words, spoken softly and earnestly by Japanese Breakfast creator Michelle Zauner, half through the set Friday night at Denver’s Ogden theater, drove home a point many have been learning, which is to say we’ve all been adjusting. She mentions the new reality during this period of our loves, but still, it’s refreshing to be able to start experiencing music on a love setting again.
I mention this because despite all the new and ever changing dynamics in our world, many like myself still need music present in their lives. The last year of not seeing performers perform has hurt many of us, but no more than the performers whose lives depend on their touring success.
In that regard, Zauner’s statement rang true. Since shows opened back up a few months ago, I’ve been able to see a few great performances and with each of those you could tell the artists were thrilled to be back performing. This tour, which runs through next month has seen Japanese Breakfast display the recently released “Jubilee” record in a tantalizing, slow and gradual manner. It’s a manner that really helps the songs breathe in a different way than they do records. Honestly, I wasn’t in love with “Jubilee” but listening to it again at the show gave to me a different type of enjoyment than I did initially, which is always great.
Opening the evening was relative newcomer Luna Li, who along with her band pushed through an eclectic and widely ranging set that seemed to go over well with the ever growing crowd at the Ogden. I’d never heard of Li before, but she’s definitely an artist to watch out for, as her classically trained background, and her featuring a violin and other elegant instruments were a welcome change t the somewhat sameness of female
Led indie rock.
Still, JB was the main attraction for the vast majority of attendants. Coming out under a hazy dark cloud of fog, Zauner and company eased into the surreal tranquility of “Paprika,” before then rocking out the crowd with a lively version of “Be Sweet,” which everyone was dancing and singing along to.
Further through the set, Zauner took time to speak to the crowd, while making her way to a lovely version of Parton's `Here You Come again,” which I loved, but it seemed like the crowd wasn’t really feeling it. Looking out at the audience almost no one was dancing or singing along, but it is what it is. But seriously, how do people live unaware of Parton's awesomeness?
Either way, the show had a remarkably fresh feeling of excitement, and when watching the crowd and band, you could feel everyone’s gratitude. So while we’re all happy to just be out in the world again, it was even better to get to see JB reliever a new fresh sounding set, while still sprinkling in older but still beloved tracks like “Boyish” and “Road Head.”
Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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