Wednesday, September 29, 2010


After I first saw Neil live in 2009, my obsession with the man and his music has grown bigger and bigger over the past few months, ever more so since I started reading Shakey. More than anything, I've always thought of Ol' Neil as a 'larger than life' character, much like Cash and Dylan. And I love his music so much that I even 'hate' him for doing the stuff he did in the past, like abandoning Crazy Horse many a time, and also doing weird stuff back in the 80's that now might seem trivial.

Neil's musical output in the past 15 to 20 years still proves that he's as prolific and versatile and unpredictable as ever. The downside is that we've not really heard anything that can stand with his work from the 70's, well maybe except for Ragged Glory or even Harvest Moon. 1995's Mirrorball was a nice surprise, considering Neil's enlisting Pearl Jam to be his back-up band. And I actually enjoyed the records he did with the Horse, Sleeps With Angels and Broken Arrow. Moving on to the 2000's, Are You Passionate? was an average album that had about two or three great songs. Out of all the albums he's made since then (Greendale, Living With War, Chrome Dreams II, Fork In The Road), I've only enjoyed Prairie Wind.

So I'll just say it outright that 2010's Le Noise is his greatest record in twenty years. It's his first REAL solo effort, and a real special one too; it's nothing like what I've heard before. And it's pretty obvious from the get-go. If this was made twenty years ago, it would've been considered innovative or even revolutionary. In this day and age, I'm convinced that it's hard to come up with a truly original/innovative piece of music. Well, Le Noise has proved me wrong, and only producer Daniel Lanois could do something like this. Don't worry -- it's not weird in a Trans sorta way.

It's a dream collaboration - Lanois and Young. It's simple really -- 8 mostly short songs. One voice, one guitar. Though the sound itself is anything but. On each song, Neil's voice and guitar are laden with all sorts of weird effects, plenty of reverb, echos, delays and loops. It's all done in Lanois' house. There's sounds coming to you at different directions so that a binaural and almost 3D-like effect is achieved. Imagine what the experience will be like when listened on a good pair of headphones or on blu-ray. Besides two acoustic tracks, the rest of the album is heavy with distortion from Neil's Old Black and White Falcon Gretsch. In fact, it's not hard to picture him playing some of these songs with the Horse on stage. You'll hear as if there are many guitars being strummed at the same time, but in reality, there's only one, and best of all, there are no overdubs. It's all done live. Surprisingly it doesn't sound too overproduced as it is raw. The result is a fucking sonically mindblowing record.

Le Noise is a strong album lyrically, with plenty of images about love, loss and redemption. You can always trust Neil to deliver the most heartfelt and honest words. Walk With Me opens with a hair-raising power chord, and the recent deaths of close friends Larry Johnson and Ben Keith has Neil singing towards the end of the song "I lost some people I was traveling with".

Love And War is easily as devastating as a song like Dylan's Masters Of War. With Spanish-influenced guitar playing, Neil sings it like he fucking means it, and there's nothing pretentious about the lyrics, unlike the many 'anti-war' songs we've heard over the past few years. And it probably has one of the all-time great opening lines in any Neil Young tune: "When I sing about love & war, I don't really know what I'm saying". Angry World was actually the first song I heard from the album -- it changed my outlook on how sound can be used in the most creative of ways. In this case, Lanois used a little voice loop as a sorta downbeat for the song. It's real subtle but effective. And halfway through the song comes about thirty seconds of one of the most beautiful chord progressions I've ever heard. But if you listen carefully, you'll notice that Neil fucks up the timing a bit. That's greatness right there.

The track I was most excited about was Hitchhiker. Yes it's the very same one that Neil started writing back in the 70's. It has gone through several lyrical treatments, but whatever it is, it's totally autobiographical. Here he sings about different stages of his life where he was trying out different drugs. He finally adds a new verse about finding peace in family. But just when you think you've heard it all, then comes Peace Valley Boulevard, an eerily sublime acoustic number about how America has evolved over the past hundred years. Neil never ceases to amaze me.

Le Noise is absolution perfection. Remember this.

P.S. Check out the Neil Young channel at youtube for some cool videos from the album.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Junky Star - Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses

Ryan Bingham must be really blessed to be working with such a versatile producer, T-Bone Burnett, who has also worked on new records with Elton John and Elvis Costello, to be released later this year. Junky Star is the Texan's most edgiest record to date -- it's dark and gritty, his very own Nebraska if you will. The album hits a high note in the title song, where Ryan declares in the first lines:

Man come to shake my hand and rob me of my farm
Shot him dead and I hung my head, and drove off in his car

Yeah there are lots of cinematic images, unlike his previous two records. Another cool song is Hallelujah -- mellow acoustic guitar that slowly builds up into an almost soul-sounding chorus, and sung from the perspective of a dead man. It's a good-enough album, not great though. To really get into the songs, it's best to whiskey up first. Or you can start with his debut, Mescalito.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

This is not merely a cover album, but rather a collaborative effort between two legendary pop composers of different musical eras. Brian Wilson was granted permission by the Gershwin estate to do this album, and I can't think of anyone in the vast musical spectrum who could pull it off other than him. This album is no different from his previous two excellent outings (Smile and That Lucky Old Sun), and has Brian crooning over some of George Gershwin's most well-known compositions.

The album begins and ends with a portion of Rhapsody In Blue, with slices of it present in the intros and outros of several songs here. For the original, listen to the New York Philharmonic 16min version -- it's a life changing experience. Back are the signature harmonies, lush orchestration and string arrangements. Songs like They Can't Take That Away From Me, I Got Rhythm and the instrumental I Got Plenty O' Nuttin' are done in a style similar to the Beach Boys. Brian was also given the honor of completing two never-before published songs, The Like In I Love You and Nothing But Love, and he has done Gershwin a favor by making them into instant classics.

This is album is a significant moment in music in the 21st Century.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

No Better Than This - John Mellencamp

In this day and age, only someone like John Mellencamp can put out a mono and lo-fi album and get away with it. His latest effort, No Better Than This produced by T-Bone Burnett, is all new songs, but they sound like they could've been written and recorded in the early 50's. And this is essentially a 50's record, and it's one of the most 'American' records I've heard in a long time.

Most of the thirteen songs were done in Memphis' Sun Studio, the birthplace of Rock & Roll. John Mellencamp stood where Elvis Presley once stood, and together with his band, did everything in one take, into one mike (therefore the mono sound). Listen to those early Sun records and this album side by side -- the similarity in the sounds is astonishing. You can hear that very distinct reverb in John's voice and the slapping of the bass strings. There's a clear separation of instruments, despite no mixing at all. The 'boom-chica-boom' sound of the drums in Coming Down The Road and No One Cares About Me brings me right back to Johnny Cash. In fact they sound like songs the Man In Black could've sung.

Another historical place used as a recording ground was the first African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia; the album's last song, Clumsy Ol' World was done there. Great song, but I was more taken aback by the sound -- absolutely enchanting. The third place was a room in a San Antonio Hotel. Robert Johnson first recorded there -- listen to Right Behind Me and you can almost 'hear' his ghost in the background. And very much alive too are the ghosts of Woody, Hank and Elvis. Haunted record indeed.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dec 18 & 19 - U2 live @ Subiaco Oval, Perth

It's all set -- concert event of the year, perhaps decade. I got the $300 seats (Edge's side) for Dec 18 in Perth. The presale was a breeze. I've never paid so much for a concert ticket in my life. Today was the general sale for all AU/NZ shows. Most of them have sold out, but the Perth show did so well that Live Nation added a second night about an hour later! But considering the band has not played there since 1998's Popmart Tour, I'm not surprised. GA for us on Dec 19.