Tuesday, May 29, 2007

An Alternative To Year Zero

I picked up the last CD from a progressive supergroup named after the proposed and short-lived Bush-nominated Office of Strategic Influence the other day. It features keyboard and vocalist Kevin Moore of Chroma Key, formerly of Dream Theater, Jim Matheos, the guitarist of Fates Warning, and Mike Portnoy, the drummer for Dream Theater. The Office of Strategic Influence was intended to be a psychological warfare office specializing in subterfuge, not only of foreign populations, but of the American people as well, which is just another of the many indicators of how corrupt and unAmerican Bush actually is. The messages of the songs are generally politically themed, not necessarily unAmerican, but they do protest outright the travesty of the American dream that Bush has created in his years in office. Themes of manipulation, paranoia, control, conspiracy, mistrust, war, terrorism, and torture run throughout and paint a picture of a world where the original Office of Strategic Influence had actually been implemented.

The second album of the supergroup was released in April of 2006. I just happened to pick it up last week. I knew of its existence, but originally put it off because I was a little, eh, distracted with various things in life at the time. First thing I have to say is that it is made entirely out of equal parts good and win. It's a testament to both Kevin Moore and Jim Matheos as songwriters. The sound fluctuates between a pumped up Chroma Key, and outright Fates Warning. Ambient sections with strong, driving rhythms (primarily what Kevin Moore is known for), punctuated with explosive guitar playing that makes one yearn for a new Fates Warning album since Matheos is the chief songwriter of both bands, and it's all held together by Kevin Moore's pop sensibilities which means each song is riddled with catchy, memorable hooks.

However, I noticed a certain connection between OSI's album Free and the last Nine Inch Nails album Year Zero, only in reverse since I actually picked up the Nine Inch Nails album before the OSI album. If I'd picked up the OSI album when it debuted, I would have mentioned this in my less-than-complimentary
review of the Nine Inch Nails album, but I was listening to Free and my brain was instantly making the connections between it and Year Zero. Now I don't want to go as far as to say "blatantly ripped off," because although there was almost a full year between the releases and, quite frankly, Year Zero did seem a half-hearted effort, I don't think Trent Reznor has heard of OSI or would give a shit if he had. However, there are certain similiarties between the two albums and one distinctive difference.

Having previously released an album of pure unbridled rage, which despite being not as good as previous albums like The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, all of a sudden seems one hell of a lot better than it did when I first heard it, Reznor turned his attention to the political scene and wrote this album condemning the war effort and Bush's manipulation. So there are themes that run similar to OSI, but it's not like there hasn't been many other musicians who have hated Bush. If the public opinion polls are any reflection of the music scene, I'd say about 80% of musicians currently do. Reznor has also calmed down to an almost numb, bitter, and seething cynicism about the political scene, much like the attitude Kevin Moore reflects in his singing. Finally, both albums are partially rhythmic ambience and partially explosive and somewhat dissonant.

The main difference is that Kevin Moore and Jim Matheos took the time to actually compose their dissonant keyboard or guitar work, and they recoreded it with a softer tone than Trent Reznor. Reznor seems to have composed over half of his album by finding the most ear-bleedingly annoying keyboard patches and writing them by randomly smashing his fingers against the keyboard as if he had suddenly forgotten how to work it. The difference it makes in the overall quality of the album is amazing. I've sampled a few of the more dissonant sections of different songs from the NIN and OSI albums for the purposes of comparison and contrast. I have no doubt you will be able to hear what I was talking about before when I said that more than half of Reznor's album sounds like the noises you get when you unknowingly dial a fax machine.

OSI 1, NIN 1
OSI 2, NIN 2
OSI 3, NIN 3

I really noticed the similarities between the two albums when I first heard the song "Simple Life" on the OSI album and immediately suspected that I heard the opening to that song somewhere before. Had I listened to the OSI album first, I would have had a similar feeling when I first came across "Zero-Sum" on the Nine Inch Nails album. Although the songs are compositionally different overall, it wouldn't be an understatement to say that the two sections are reminiscent:

Simple Life, Zero Sum

Essentially, if you were as overwhelmingly disappointed as I was with Year Zero and would like to hear something much more aesthetically pleasing along the same vain, I highly recommend the album Free from OSI. You might want to check out their self-titled debut as well for even more divine goodness.


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