Neil Young’s “Le Noise”

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October 1, 2010 by esarsea

This from NPR and Adam CK Vollick:

This is a unique album from Neil Young. As producer Daniel Lanois puts it, there is no band, no overdubs, just “a man on a stool and me doing a nice job on the recording.” The result is a stunning sonic adventure.

Le Noise is, fittingly, the product of two men fascinated by sound. Ask anyone who has been to a Neil Young show, and they will tell you that you feel the music as much as you hear it. Listen to a Daniel Lanois album — or one he’s produced with Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan or U2 — and you hear a sonic stamp. To record the album, Lanois gave Young an electro/acoustic guitar; he’d spent years perfecting the instrument’s electronics. In a press release for Le Noise, Lanois explained:

“I wanted to give him something he’d never heard before. He picked up that instrument, which had everything — an acoustic sound, electronica, bass sounds — and he knew when he played it that we had taken the acoustic guitar to a new level. It’s hard to come up with a new sound at the back end of 50 years of rock ‘n’ roll, but I think we did it.”

For the album, Young wrote eight new songs — some autobiographical and some about loss, specifically the loss of friends such as steel guitarist and core band member Ben Keith. There was also the passing of filmmaker Larry Johnson, whom Young met at Woodstock, and who worked with on Young’s film Journey Through the Past. Some songs are political: “Love and War” is a reflection on writing about the titular topics so many times for so many years.

Details about the recording sessions for the album fuel the legend of Neil Young: He only recorded on nights when there was a full moon and brought out his infamous big white electric Gretsch guitar, which was used to record some of his most famous records in the late ’60s and early ’70s. As usual, it works. Young described to the Chicago Tribune how Lanois made that guitar sound by saying, “It sounded like God.”

Le Noise will be released on Sept. 28, but you can stream the album here in its entirety until Oct. 5. 

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4 thoughts on “Neil Young’s “Le Noise”

  1. Stu says:

    I absolutely love it…but I’m an unabashed Neil Young fanatic.

    Here’s a good review that appeared on http://www.tonepublications.com

    “Neil Young’s unparalleled legacy is defined in part by surprising decisions and eclectic albums. The iconoclastic artist is one of the very few musicians that genuinely does what he wants when he wants, consequences and public reaction be damned. Such sudden and odd choices have proven both beneficial (2006’s institutionally scathing Living With War, 1982’s ahead-of-the-times Trans) and disastrous (2009’s hit-and-run Fork In the Road, all of his feature film projects). And while Young thrives on unexpectedness, the amount of people who truly believed that the singer/guitarist could deliver a pioneering (and great) album at this stage in his career could be counted on one hand.

    Featuring Young just playing guitar and singing, Le Noise is a record that changes how music can be presented and heard. Originally intended as an acoustic solo effort, it evolved into a grand, epic-sounding work made in a style that Young has dubbed “folk-metal” due to producer Daniel Lanois’ stunning sonic treatments. Recorded live with no overdubs and no outside band assistance at Lanois’ Silver Lake home, the album is like nothing else in Young’s catalog—or that of contemporary music.

    How Lanois got such terrific sounds, and what he did with the guitar, is part of the genius. He initially outfitted an acoustic model with a pickup that imitates the human voice and loops it through the song, manipulated the two low strings to give them heavier bass presence, and plugged it into a tremolo amplifier. A hollow-body electric guitar, used on six of the eight tunes, got fed through two amplifiers—one clean and one dirtied with tremolo, the dynamic contrasts paralleling Le Noise’s striking juxtapositions of intimacy and enormity, calm and turbulence.

    Chords are augmented, magnified, echoed, stretched, thickened, stripped; arrangements unpredictably build, decay, and disintegrate, with some of the random pieces then reassembling into different shapes that collect like iron shavings on a moving magnet. Individual notes break off from parent structures, occasionally taking the form of jagged chards, other times doubling as the clink of a piano or stop of an organ. Riffs seem as if they’ve been filtered through a multitude of distortion devices, choral pedals, sustain gadgets, and delay boxes. An entrenched sense of melody and rhythm allows the songs to hold their shape, and Young’s singing is as clear, attentive, and passionate as it’s been in years. Straightforward and direct, the songwriting is equally superb.

    Dealing with tremendous loss—two of Young’s longtime collaborators, L.A. Johnson and Ben Keith, passed away within the past year, and Lanois almost died in a motorcycle crash last June—Young addresses mourning, love, politics, conflict, redemption, and the environment (all hallmark themes) in penetratingly honest lyrics that appear less interested in concrete answers than arriving at certain understanding and finding peace of mind. Several songs take on a decidedly autobiographical bent.

    “The Hitchhiker” chronicles Young’s life journey, touching on his geographical bases, drug use phases, and marriages before concluding with the 64-year-old hauntingly confessing “I don’t know how I’m standing here/Living in my life.” On the affecting hymn “Love and War,” one of two acoustic tracks, Young again invokes mistakes of his past while punching the song through with forthright emotion and terrifying sincerity. It’s a concise gem, the simple words teeming with poignant meaning and heartbreaking tenderness. “I said a lot of things that I can’t take back/But I don’t really know if I want to,” Young contemplates, his intimate voice aching with a chilling mix of soulful fear and deferred relief. Pain and trepidation are also present on “Peaceful Valley Boulevard,” a socially conscious reflection that the singer delivers with lullaby softness. Asking a host of refined questions and making salient observations, the song distills many of Young’s longtime favorite subjects into a quiet anthem for the ages that ends with a stark scenario: “A child was born and wondered why.”

    On its own, Young’s material would prove engaging if experienced in normal folk settings. Yet it’s the new language of Lanois’ rich soundscapes that elevate it to thrilling levels. Rhythmic blocks reverberate as if emanating from a massive hall located in some enormous European palace. Young strums, swipes, and strikes at guitar strings that snap, crackle, moan, howl, hiss, and rumble. Provided enhanced definition and dimension, the noises waft and carry, disappear and reappear. Covering a vast tonal spectrum, the music often feels like a series of alternately choppy and even waves, ebbing and flowing, monumental in size and impression. And so the ragged glory bite of the saw-toothed guitar patterns during “It’s An Angry World” and oncoming thunder of the chunky chords on “Walk With Me” sound titanic—all the better to share space with Young’s booming, from-the-heavens vocals. What an album.

    Reprise’s 180g LP possesses depth and width that defy limits. The louder the record is played, the more extraordinary Young and Lanois’ work becomes. The lifelike nature of the acoustic properties, myriad frequencies, and surreal tonalities is eclipsed only by the imaging. It often seems that Young—just as he’s pictured on the album’s cover—is that short of a distance away from the speakers.”

    –Bob Gendron

  2. Bill says:

    I need to get this. I liked Young’s early solo stuff, After The Gold Rush-type stuff, his CSN stuff and got a little off track with his trip after that. (What was the name of his band with the gymnast-guitar player, the little dude with the headband who could do backflips while he was playing)?

  3. Stu says:

    Crazy Horse?

  4. Bill says:

    Yup, that’s the one. Early days were better for me.

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