Not the Actual Events: EP Review

With the year coming to a close I figured the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross camp was going to hold off on new Nine Inch Nails until after the New Year. I’d been satisfied with the ‘Before the Flood’ soundtrack, but new music with little notice is always a perk worth the excitement. Not the Actual Events is a five track EP that explores solid walls of distorted sound. Over the years I’ve come to develop certain expectations of Reznor and his work, but what makes this record special is that where it doesn’t deviate, it exceeds. Old tendencies are coupled with fresh ideas, and the resulting record feels like something that would’ve been produced in the 90’s, without sounding dated. The word ‘thick’ kept coming to mind as I listened through it. Thick beats, dirty bass, and layers upon layers of oppressive noise.

In terms of songwriting and production it’s a complete departure from the 2013 release, Hesitation Marks. It’s full of screeching, distorted, atmospheric guitars, scattered throughout the EP. The use of guitars and bass with this approach to production is more in line with rock, but the result is less polished than previous rock records. It’s not pop, and doesn’t have anything that would appeal to mainstream rock radio, which is why it’s sure to please the diehards. There’s a lot of moving action and sequencing, the sort of thing that merits multiple listens.

As a drummer I’m always fascinated by the variation of drums, and Not the Actual Events delivers in that category. Electronic drums are sequenced through songs like Dear World, while the booming roomy sound of She_s Gone Away are a quick disconnect from the previous track. These changing elements keep the movements fresh, which is common with NIN, but worth the observation here.

Certain parts of the record reminded me of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Specifically the vocal inflection during the chorus of Branches_Bones, and the rhythmic procession of The Idea of You, stood out as things I’d expect from Dillinger. Not a criticism, just something I noticed.

While the wall of sound is what got to me through my first couple of spins, I came to find my attention drawn towards the vocal production. Throughout the record the vocals are mixed in such a way to obscure what’s being said, which may frustrate the casual fan, but I find it to be part of the charm. In other places the voice is loud and clear. The theme of balancing nihilism with passion reveals an individual who is uncertain, and often-in denial.

Overall Not the Actual Events is an experience that can’t be disproven. It’s short, bitter, and made of all the pieces/parts of a great Nine Inch Nails record.

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UPDATE: 03/06/17

When I initially purchased the mp3s it included a “physical component” to be mailed at a later date. It was something to hold in your hands, and seemed like a nod to our collective nostalgia. After a few weeks I sort of forgot about it, until it arrived at my door, and made me excited to listen to the EP again.

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A caulk like-charcoal dusting had blackened my fingertips right out of the plastic. It contained a transparent piece of film with an image of Trent/Atticus. Then a paper slide for each track with lyrics. The backs had more of the charcoal residue textured to an aesthetic visual, and came up/smeared with a touch. Most interesting (to me) was that the page with the lyrics for “she’s_gone_away” had the lyrics to their 1994 track “reptile” squeezed in between the lines, which suggests some kind of narrative connection.

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Critical South Park: Political Satire, Expectations, and the Issue of Donald Trump

With South Park having become serialized the most recent season placed greater emphasis on storytelling, while using real world events to maintain their topical edge. Season 20 focused on the presidential race, paralleled with the complications of Internet trolling. The end result was a show that had become self aware, and acknowledged the likelihood of existing, “in the post-funny era of satire.”

The show faced a curve ball when Trump won the election. Since 2008 South Park had produced their election episodes based on betting odds in Vegas. When Clinton lost they had to rework the episode with less than 24 hours to air. But I’m less interested in their portrait of Clinton, as she was depicted in her own likeness.

South Park has taken it upon themselves to include the sitting president, in addition to a number of other politicians, and their depictions, though crude, are fitting for the character they sought to represent. Bill Clinton looked like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush looked like George W. Bush, and so on.

Then we get to Donald Trump, and we’re faced with the complication of entity. The discourse of the 20th season goes back to the first Christmas special, and the first time Herbert Garrison asked if their township could, “get rid of all the Mexicans.” His anti-immigrant sentiments have echoed on, ever since.

Season 19 was the first to implement serialization through the entirety, and that story world was carried over into Season 20. In an early episode Garrison finds himself overwhelmed by the sudden influx of Canadian immigrants, suggests getting rid of them, and declares his desire to build a wall between Canada and the United States. He’s distressed by the fact that Canada has beaten him to punch, by building their own wall between the countries. It’s revealed that Canada has been taken over by a character known as ‘Canadian Trump.’ By the end of the episode Garrison has raped Canadian Trump to death, and begins his own campaign for the top office in the country with running mate, Caitlyn Jenner.

Season 20 began, and Garrison is tanned to a bronzed orange. Topical interviews and dialog are voiced through this character, as a deliberate entity of Donald Trump is never produced. This struck me, over and over as the season progressed. The writers had avoided the low hanging fruit of the previous administrations, rarely depicting any president as incompetent on a consistent basis, so why establish the distance of depicting a candidate by means of another character? Aside from Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner, every other reference to the contemporary political arena mirrored that of the real world. Even then South Park left some of the sensationalism to the media, as their depiction of Steve Bannon showed him looking over a clipboard, and making a simple statement about the transition going smoothly.

It’s sharp satire, because it defies expectations. Such expectations include a Trump figure in the likeness of real world Trump. By having put that agency onto a character already established in the story world, it allowed for the writers to play with the kind of atmosphere that cultivated the results we have today. They made sharper and deeper cuts than their late night counterparts, but were never called out by the Twitter prone President Elect. Though poking fun at Trump, it’s done so through the veiled obscurity of distance, a nuance not employed by late night comedians or other political satirists, which is why South Park hasn’t been on the receiving end of a Twitter rant (or the trolls that follow).

In a time when the President Elect decries negative commentary in the media, the obscurity of South Park has allowed them to make some scathing comments without personal backlash. It could be that South Park is just a silly little cartoon show, while Saturday Night Live is culturally relevant, but I’d argue that the distance established in how Trump has been depicted on South Park is the best bet for artistic media to criticize the coming administration without fear of repercussion.

 

Book Review: ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King

I’m not one to care much about material possession, but if gifts are in order I’m all about books. For the big dirty thirty I received a copy of On Writing by Stephen King. I’ve had friends suggest this text to me before, but with academic writing taking precedent over fiction I didn’t have time for it.
The book is odd, as it’s broken up into segments that often have little concern of the writing process. It opens with a solid hundred pages of a life story that begins with childhood imagination. The cover of the book reveals the subtitle “A Memoir of the Craft” to which the first and third segments adhere. My expectations were thrown off, but for the rabid King fan it’s an interesting look into the life of the author.
It’s the middle segment of the book where King offers the goods. The tips to writing that makes for good reading include similar tendencies I developed in my academic pursuits. King even name-dropped The Elements of Style throughout his text, which I had put to use in college.
Beyond sentence structure King’s emphasis is crafting fiction. This is the gray area that has worked for him, if it’s true. I wouldn’t take the advice as that which all should follow, but one radical element stood out to me. I scoffed, at first, but further consideration has given the idea validity in my mind, though it’s not for me. This claim is that King does not plot, and that it’s the coupling of questions with the writing process that crafts his stories. Like a scientific theory more than one party must handle the notion if it’s to be considered fact. From here I point towards Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the minds behind South Park. At a college lecture on writing Stone and Parker described an approach that considers the full plotting of an episode to produce a result that is predictable. To avoid this the writing starts with a premise, and they throw questions at it until something sticks, and eventually takes shape.
Sorry to venture off there, but it’s the notion that King’s approach works for successful writers beyond himself that suggests the idea has some commercial merit. I do enough plotting to know where I’m going, lest I get to a pivotal moment and take the easy way out… but I must acknowledge appreciation in the face of difference.
This book is no holy grail. King offers no magic beyond general practices, and personal preferences. It’s another chunk of text on writing in a sea of such material. Yet I’d recommend it to those getting started, or even an experienced writer in need of a refresher. King’s voice is clear, encouraging, and easy to understand.

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