In Memoriam

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This year saw the passing of one of my all-time favorite bass players, Chi Cheng, of Deftones. As a teenager, I did my best to emulate his consistent, yet distinct playing style. While considering the impact that he, and the band, has had on my life, I couldn’t help but think back to my favorite album. Around the Fur, as the title suggests, featured some hyper-sexualized lyrics, but also featured some unprecedented moves for the band.  This sophomore effort has some of the band’s strongest hooks, boldest experiments, and what is perhaps the most cohesive interplay between the their members, particularly with the addition of Frank Delgado.

Musically, this album was not their most advanced work, but they made bold moves in various aspects of their style, developing greatly in the years since Adrenaline. Delgado’s sampling added a depth to their sound that resonated throughout the records that have followed. Cheng’s deeper, more impactful style, paired with Abe Cunningham’s precision and experimentation, marked a distinct progression for the Deftones. Certainly, the albums titular track features one of the most memorable drum intros of the decade. Despite the band’s growth, Around the Fur wouldn’t be certified platinum until 2011, but it would certainly mark an incredible point of progression for everyone, especially Chino Moreno.

 

During Adrenaline, I appreciated Moreno’s vocal intensity. Only in recent years, and after several more albums, and numerous bouts with throat cancer, have I come to appreciate his true ability as a vocalist. He has a genuine strength in range, which can be seen as a masterful display in later albums, but to witness its growth in  Around the Fur is nothing short of inspiring. Truly, the best example of this burgeoning strength is in the breakout track “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away).” This track showcases not only his range, but the very ethereal dynamic that would characterize the band in the years following. Over these past decades, Deftones have grown into a unique musical experience, with a dedicated family of supporters and fans that have grown with them, and have felt their pain. Chi Cheng’s absence will always be felt, but his contribution to this incredible influence on the music world will always be undeniable.

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Return to the Spiral

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Perhaps the most significant contribution, to my life, that came from the soundtrack to The Crow was an introduction to Nine Inch Nails. And while I wouldn’t listen to Joy Division for some 10 more years, my exposure to “Dead Souls” started a fascination that would propel my musical tastes to this day. The Downward Spiral  introduced me to genre stylings, musical expression, and the sense of continuity that I had not experienced in my years listening to the radio.  During the angst of my teen years, I could listen to this CD and drift to a world where I ruled, where I was understood, and where I didn’t feel alone. And while my mind would wander to the dark, depressing places of adolescence, I found solace and hope in these tracks.

As a pioneer in the industrial genre, Trent Reznor forged a movement through his Nothing label, and this album was its leader. The machine-driven sounds of “Mr. Self Destruct,” “Ruiner,” and “Eraser” deconstructed the manufactured state of the world around me, exposing a system of gears and levers behind a facade of normalcy that gave me a sense of awareness. I was unique among the assembly-line factory that was, or is, Idaho. This awareness propelled in me a sense of quiet rebellion. This rebellion grew louder with my awareness, and during a time of public outcry against this and other artistic expressions, I felt as if I were a part of something greater than myself.

I went through no less than three copies of this album, between theft and destruction. My parents hated Trent Reznor with a fiery passion, but had the utmost respect for my choices – my friends, however, could not make such a boast. On more than one occasion, some album from our teenage years would find its way into a paper shredder. Seeing firsthand the censorship that we felt was being propagated by congress (ours was a grand purpose, wasn’t it?), we returned time and again to Nine Inch Nails with a restored respect for its passion. There was little that could stir us out of our collective lethargy, but this album inspired us, me especially.  The complete experience of this album was nothing short of cathartic.

There were unquestionably some breakout tracks from The Downward Spiral. Certainly “Closer” has left a lasting impression on most of us, regardless of how we may have felt about Nine Inch Nails then or now. “Hurt” had a resurgence in popularity, following Johnny Cash’s cover, prior to his death. But the real beauty of this album is in listening to it from start to finish. Tracks like “Heresy,” my personal favorite, and “A Warm Place” stand out as markers during its progression, setting and resetting the pace for the album. Its titular track effectively pulls the listener back into a dark stillness, before the album closes on its most somber track, returning to its thematic sense of self-destruction. Despite the sorrow in Reznor’s voice, and the somber lyrics, this album gave me a sense of hope. In listening, I belonged to something, and sometimes, for a teenager, there is nothing more important.

The most important album of my life.

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When I was 12 I had dual-cassette player in my room, a birthday gift. It was my first connection to a world much greater than myself. I used to record singles off of the radio, compiling my earliest mix tapes, and setting a standard for the countless hours I would spend at my computer putting together playlists as an adult. During this time I had a rather short attention span – I wouldn’t be prepared for my first full length album from a single band for another year. For this reason, I discovered my first full-length musical experience in a soundtrack. Even then I knew that this collection would be important, although looking back, that was most likely the result of a great deal of romanticism to the cassette itself, as well as the movie from which it came.

The Crow, starring Brandon Lee, was an important film for me, introducing me to several cinematic themes, not the least of which was the legacy passed from Bruce Lee to his son. The film was dark and violent, the adaptation of a graphic novel that was equally so. The soundtrack then, not only accompanied the movie for me, but everything surrounding it. It only took one time through before I had found a way to apply each macabre track to some aspect of my life, a product of burgeoning teen angst, no doubt. This soundtrack’s importance would never be lost on me though, and even today I still find myself listening to select songs.

This soundtrack introduced me to numerous important bands, bands that I would listen to for years to come, and some that I wouldn’t listen to beyond it. Paramount to this experience was my introduction to The Cure, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, and Violent Femmes. This album set the stage for my music tastes for years to come, and although I never grew to appreciate Pantera or Rollins Band on the same level as The Jesus and Mary Chain or Helmet, their impression would stay with me well into adulthood. When I had the chance to meet Henry Rollins, I was glad to have had that post-Black Flag experience to reflect on.

The Crow had a formidable influence on my adolescence, and continues to be a strong presence in my life today. Each track feels like a small piece of history, something greater than nostalgia. They collectively act not just as the soundtrack to a motion picture, but as the soundtrack to my life, even beyond the point at which my cassette melted and its CD replacement wouldn’t play any more. Most importantly, this soundtrack introduced me to the full-length musical experience of a complete album, and the most influential band of my teenage years: Nine Inch Nails.