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Love Letter To A Record: Modern Error On Nine Inch Nails’ ‘The Downward Spiral’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Kel Pinchin, Modern Error – Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral, (1994)

One of the strangest things about my love for The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails is that it bloomed only a few years ago. So many people’s favourite records are found in nostalgia and based in a past time, but mine is purely based on exploration until I found what I was looking for, even though I had no idea where I would end up. And that’s the best thing about music; we can explore and meander through different genres and tastes, especially in today’s streaming market. Why we feel a certain way or are drawn to certain things are not an exact science, but we never know where we might end up or what we might stumble upon during our journey through an absolute minefield of artists.

After years of music listening, I tired of the formulaic music I had rested on and yearned for something that would challenge my expectation of an album and an artist. So I began exploring through different albums and artists, genres and styles until I ended up on a name I had heard continuously whilst growing up in the ’90s, but for whatever reason, never indulged. That name was Nine Inch Nails.

Understanding that the pivotal album of NIN was The Downward Spiral, I was drawn to it from the vast catalogue of works. However, on my first listen, I didn’t understand it. It was so abrasive and noisy that it completely took me off guard, and I didn’t know what to do with it. The years of listening to ‘surface level’ and ‘single based format’ music had left me almost conditioned and confused as to why this record was held up with such high regard.

Yet, I kept returning to it, eager to make sense of its critical acclaim for some reason. The more I listened, the further I seemed to understand it. Each passage I did of the album from track 1 through to 14, the deeper my love grew, and the more excited and obsessed about it I became. Still, until this day, my love for it continues to grow. It seems ultimately the time and work I put into making sense of the album to me is the reason as to why I so hopelessly surrendered to its infectious noise, and in the end, is why this record ended up being my all-time favourites. It made me understand that you have to listen, front to back and no skipping, to find its infinite beauty, which is lost in today’s fast-food approach to music and albums.

There is intent within its construction. Each element playing a crucial part to convey its message, nuances within melodies I only picked up way down the line, and even within its artwork and presentation across the different avenues of video and press, it held its intentions. The deep-rooted primal elements lay on its surface, which we as animals cannot ignore and only invite us further, sometimes even without our conscious knowledge. The layers of manipulated sound and samples, an array of synthesisers and rhythms, topped with the emotion fuel voice, all continuing to enforce each theme ideally as if I was listening to a well-constructed machine. Every song cascading down the spiral and ending beautifully with a dull but almost hopeful message; through all the chaos and violent world we live in, things will be okay.

I have read books about this record, researched it, watched videos and listened to podcasts, and I cannot stop finding new things when I listen to it. The mystery area has led me into a constant state of awe and pushes my attempt to understand every inch of Trent Reznor’s work. It has changed my perception of music and the perception of so many people, and the boundaries of music as a whole. Like all works of art, it has continued to live long past its release day, extending to this day and repeating its influence on so many new musicians and listeners alike. Leading me to various other records like Depeche Mode’s ‘Violator’, David Bowies ‘Low’ and Iggy Pop’s ‘The Idiot’, to name only a few; the lasting effect extends past NIN’s catalogue.

As an artist and a producer, what was achieved with this record is what I aspire to accomplish through all my works. It was a pivotal moment in my music exploration. I will continue to listen to this album with no stops or interruptions, letting it pour out my speakers, filling the room with noise, driving and inspiring me to become a better artist.

Modern Error are a UK rock duo comprised of twin brothers, Zak and Kel Pinchin, who’ve just released their long-awaited debut album, ‘Victim Of A Modern Age’ via Rude Records.

Take it for a spin below!

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