David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Run the Jewels Music Reviews

VIDEO: David Bowies Many Personas Through the Decades
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This past week did not set the year’s release schedule off in an exciting way, so while we wait for the year to kick into high gear, we’ll look at some of the releases that arrived since the year-end list was compiled. The passing of what would have been David Bowie’s 70th birthday this last week did bring the release of a “new” EP, but these songs were actually released elsewhere earlier in 2016. Nine Inch Nails dropped an EP on December 23rd and Run the Jewels used Christmas Eve to release their third offering as a surprise.

PHOTO: David Bowie - "No Plan"
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David Bowie’s “No Plan” EP ****

If you bought the “Lazarus” Original Cast recording which was released back in October, you already have the “No Plan” EP. So, the people getting excited about “new music” from Bowie, delivered on what would have been his 70th birthday, obviously haven’t been paying attention. Still, it is nice to have these songs isolated as their own set.

Yes, you get “Lazarus” again from “Blackstar,” but that track stands as one of Bowie’s final and most profound musical statements, so it is welcome on just about any collection.

These songs were said to be the last recordings of Bowie’s lifetime. Amazingly, record executives didn’t tack them onto some “Deluxe” version of the “Blackstar” album. Considering the original album was only seven songs, the inclusion of the ominous, “No Plan,” the darkly rocking “Killing A Little Time” and the single-ready, warped new-wave of “When I Met You” would not have disrupted that album’s flow in any way, shape or form.

“No Plan” as a collection, even if it is a rerun of sorts, is still a great reminder that David Bowie went out in peak form. It will leave you sadly wishing for more. The collection’s dark and strange nature of the set further cements his enigmatic image and captures the dread of pondering his own mortality.

It is an understatement to say that Bowie will be missed. His death, a year later is still like a fresh, profoundly deep wound.

Focus Tracks:

“When I Met You” This is the most accessible of the three new tracks, even if it has some dissonance. It feels like a goodbye, but it is sharper and more angular in its approach than the “Blackstar” closer, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” which had a sweeter, more somber tone.

“Killing A Little Time” Destructive and chaotic at times, this captures the same madness that sometimes fueled parts of “Blackstar.” It has a madcap, jazzy, orchestral fabric.

“No Plan” The title-track is the murkiest and saddest of the bunch, but it also has an expressive, almost operatic feeling.

Read the review of the official cast recording of “Lazarus."
PHOTO: Nine Inch Nails - "Not The Actual Events"
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Nine Inch Nails’ “Not The Actual Events” ****

Trent Reznor promised new music before the end of 2016 and he made good on that promise by delivering “Not The Actual Events,” a five-track, 22-minute EP of new material. His movie-scoring-partner and How To Destroy Angels cohort, Atticus Ross is now apparently a full-fledged member. Reznor has said more new music is coming this year, but this brief set gives something for every kind of Nine Inch Nails fan.

If you liked the dark, semi-industrial synth-pop found on “Pretty Hate Machine,” you’ll probably enjoy this set’s “Dear World.” If you enjoy Reznor’s heavier work, you’ll get a jolt from “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” which recalls both the Jesus & Mary Chain and A Place To Bury Strangers simultaneously.

“She’s Gone Away” has an eerie sense of disaffection while “Branches/Bones” is a quick electro rave-up.

This stands well with the other Nine Inch Nails work. Reznor has never released a bad record over his 28-year recording career, but at the same time, as excellent as it is, it feels like a mere taster of things to come. It doesn’t feel like a complete statement. I’m sure that sense of completion will arrive by the end of this year. After all, perhaps the title of the set is an indicator that the “Actual Events” are still to come.

Focus Tracks:

“Burning Bright (Field On Fire)” This is quite heavy and perhaps the most noise-rock and shoegaze-influenced track Nine Inch Nails have ever recorded.

“Dear World.” This is an old-school NIN synth-jam, bringing to mind the club-ready electronic workouts that fueled Reznor’s earliest work.

PHOTO: Run The Jewels - "Run The Jewels 3"
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Run the Jewels’ “Run the Jewels 3” ****

When Killer Mike and El-P came together as Run the Jewels in 2013, it felt like a dynamic side-project for both of them. Three albums in and it is now a full-fledged project which will no doubt widen their audience to their previous work.

“Run the Jewels 3” was supposed to drop on January 13th. Physically, it still does, but they dropped the album in its digital form early on Christmas Eve. If you’ve heard Run the Jewels, you know what to expect. Here the two rappers continue spitting rapid-fire, call-and-response verses over forward-thinking electro-tinged production. This album fully earns its parental advisory sticker, so the easily offended should steer clear, but both El-P and Killer Mike have a darkly snarky wit, mixing off-center references with a hardcore lyrical tinge.

Stylistically too, with its futuristic grooves, this is a record like its predecessors that should please both the club crowd and hip-hop purists, from the slick techno-bounce of “Call Ticketron,” to the forceful flow on “Stay Gold.”

This is also a record full of interesting guests. Danny Brown fits right in dropping a verse on “Hey Kids,” while Trina handles the hook on “Panther Like a Panther.” “Thursday in the Danger Room” features modern saxophone great Kamasi Washington. Joi sings the hook on opener “Down” while “2100” features Boots. Best of all, though, is the secret track, “Kill Your Masters,” which re-teams the duo with Rage Against The Machine’s Zack De La Rocha, who impresses so much that he really should eventually be an official Run the Jewels member.

This third offering keeps the momentum going, with hard-driving beats and hints of political fervor. When Killer Mike makes reference to a “bad man” who “wore a bad toupee and a spray tan,” on “Talk to Me,” you can guess whose image he’s summoning. Run the Jewels don’t pull any punches and they approach each verse like champion fighters entering a ring and taking charge.

Focus Tracks:

“Kill Your Masters” This track should get better billing on the album. (It doesn’t even get its own separate track.) The beat is sonically jaw-dropping and it is a thrill to hear De La Rocha’s surprise appearance. It actually should be a single.

“Call Ticketron” This track has an inventive, spacey electronic sound and it makes the most of a sample of voice saying, “Live from the Garden.” It’s as much electronica as it is hip-hop.

“Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost) (Featuring Tunde Adebimpe) El-P and Killer Mike team with Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio on this apocalyptic-sounding jam that samples the voices of both Rod Serling and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The combination of those two voices on the same track speak volumes about our current state, both politically and socially.

Next Week: New music from the xx and more.

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