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Sunday, May 08, 2016

PREVIEW: Neil Young's New Album 'Earth' L.A.'s Natural History Museum


Neil Young - L.A.'s Natural History Museum
Photograph by Steve Appleford | Rolling Stone
(Click photo to enlarge)

Neil Young previewed his new album 'Earth' at Los Angeles's Natural History Museum on May 6.

Before playing the album, Neil said:
"As John Lennon would say: Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream."

From Rolling Stone By Steve Appleford:
Neil Young: "I've written a lot of songs about the state of the earth and the health of things from my point of view. But I never really included all the living things so much as this. And their innocence and the way that you feel when you hear them – it makes you think about them. They're real, but they don't have this uptight vibe. They don't have all the hatred and everything. It's just not there. That's a subtle thing."

"It was so fascinating making the record," Young says. "The sounds of the animals made you feel good. They are all in the right key. They don't clash with anything. They were perfectly in pitch. We never changed the pitch of any animal. We just left it the way it was and dropped it in. That was really encouraging."

Earth's opening song, "Mother Earth," was partly inspired by a belt buckle given to Young by a Native American in the early 1970s.

"It said 'Respect Mother Earth,' and it was handmade – a big silver plate, and it was obviously banged out by somebody and very soulful. I took the melody from an old hymn and made it a little bit different," Young explains, calling the song the most direct of any on the record. "It's the most in your face that this is what the record is about. The rest of it is scenes, but they add up to let you know something and feel. There's an incredible amount of love on this record, and you can feel that amongst everything. That's what life is all about."
From Billboard By Chris Willman:
“A lot of people make live records and they fix ‘em and do all kinds of stuff, and that’s nice,” said Young. In this case, “there is no reason to assume that just because it was live that we had to pretend that it was [all] live… The way I look at it is, I perform best when I’m live. And I usually play live in the studio because of that. Here, it was like, hey, we’ve got a great groove here recorded [in concert], and now I’ll use it like it was a studio track, and I’ll use the audience like an effect. Sometimes you won’t know they’re there, and other times they’ll come back. Then I started thinking, when they do come back, maybe I’ll put a couple of animal sounds in there, because you can't tell the difference between a coyote and somebody whooping in the audience. I mean, it’s really hard to tell. So I’ll just throw one in for a joke every once in a while or something like that, just to see what it sounds like.”

“It sounded so great that I immediately wanted to leave the coliseum and go to where those animals came from,” Young said. “So we left the coliseum behind and just kind of floated down into the fields and brooks and streams and hung out with the animals in their own place. So that’s what the theme of the thing is, to remember they’re there. Even though we’re having wars, crickets are still singing.”

“I wanted to use singers that were really great singers to augment the corporate harmony of some of the song — the brands and everything,” he said. “I knew I had to have a very commercial-sounding group to sound like that. So we found the best singers in L.A., and they formed their own group, and I worked with them and told them where to sing.” With that third layer, there’s portent amid the beauty -- and, oddly, beauty amid the portent.

“A lot of people that listen to the record have said to me that it’s a meditative experience for them,” he said. “It relaxes them and they go away… Because it never stops, there’s no time to analyze what it is once you get locked into it.”

After all was said, overdubbed, and done on Earth, what turned out to be Young’s favorite animal sound?

“You know, I like the elk,” Young said. “And I like the whales. But I love the crickets. They sing and they change their rhythm and they’ve got all these cadences. And the crow. The crow is a commentator. When something happens in the lyric, he reacts. He’s listening to the words.”
From L.A. Times:
The sold-out event drew an estimated 2,500 people to the Natural History Museum as part of its monthly “First Fridays” series that features live music, deejays, science lectures and other special activities. Young is the biggest name entertainer to be part of the program so far, and the veteran rocker said it was at the suggestion of his longtime manager, Elliot Roberts.

“It seemed like a good place to play the album,” he said in the museum’s green room while the playback continued on a chilly spring evening. “This is an L.A. event -- downtown Los Angeles! I feel like Joe Friday. No one knows who the hell Joe Friday is,” he added with a laugh, referring to the LAPD detective famously portrayed by actor Jack Webb in the television series "Dragnet.” “I love Joe Friday.”

For the unconventional amalgam of music, ambient sounds, crowd noise and other effects all edited seamlessly into the single 98-minute sonic journey, Young cited director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” as a key inspiration.

“There’s a scene in it where a bat flies down the street, and you’re the bat,” he said. “You can’t hear, but sounds are coming out, the bat is turning and turning and you feel like you’re the bat, like you’re moving through space. I never forgot that scene, or the power of being the bat.”

“The album was first called ‘Warning: Contains Modified Content,’” he said. “I just wanted to bring in another perspective, use the audience sounds like they were another effect, instead of seeing it as a limitation, along with all the creature sounds and other effects.”

Asked whether he has other out-of-the-box plans for the new album, Young said, “Not really."

“I don’t have any plans at all,” he said. “I didn’t have a plan for this. This appeared by itself. My skill, I think, if I have one, is letting it happen. I just never question it anymore. I figure if I have an idea, it’s a gift and I want to go for it. If it’s no good, I might not put it out. But who cares? At least I did it. It came.

“You don’t have to think these things up,” he said. “You just have to be available.”

Neil Young
Los Angeles's Natural History Museum on May 6.
Photo by Carl Pocket | Buzzbands

More on Neil Young's New Album 'Earth' .

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16 Comments:

At 5/08/2016 08:33:00 PM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

I actually can't wait to hear this record. Neil's words have resonated with me, he has captured my imagination.

This is the very rare case where the prospect of a live album doesn't particularly excite me; but of course, this isn't a traditional live album. It's something else entirely. It's not like Weld or Live Rust or Year Of The Horse. This is one of those off-the-wall, creative, idiosyncratic Neil Young projects (e.g Human Highway) that in this case just happens to have been (partially) recorded on stage. So all bets are off.

Unlike many, I suspect, I'm also quite enthusiastic about these animal sounds/sound samples. I wouldn't want it on every record, of course, but it's a really intriguing idea and I can see where he's coming from. And reading that interview was a very familiar experience, wasn't it? He's up to his old tricks. We've been down this road before. The crow as a messenger, and all that stuff. It's typical Neil Young.

Now, this record might well turn out to be a minor work blown out of all proportion. That's happened a lot recently. But you can tell this is a project that Neil has really gotten his teeth into. And, as with Americana, this record has the huge advantage that it largely bypasses what many of us consider to be the weakest link of most recent albums: Neil's modern-era songwriting. In other words, he's playing to his remaining strengths, not his weaknesses. And I for one can't wait to hear what he's come up with.


Scotsman.

 
At 5/08/2016 08:53:00 PM, Blogger Don Ho said...

I dunno. that pic looks like it belongs in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
Don't get me wrong, I admire Neil but his last couple o' albums were just....shit.
And now re-hashed stuff. Isn't that what broke ass Old Farts do to cash in/out?
I was REALLY lookin' forward to him takin' the Real in directions only the horse went.
I mean, I saw them last summer and they played the F outta older Neil tunes. They gotta be fans first, musicians second, the way they played with Neil.
this is just more of the same. Lame, Lazy Old Neil. 'coulda been great. OFW.
www.ponosucks.com

 
At 5/08/2016 11:08:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Hey Scots, I agree with basically everything you said, except:

"this record has the huge advantage that it largely bypasses what many of us consider to be the weakest link of most recent albums: Neil's modern-era songwriting. In other words, he's playing to his remaining strengths, not his weaknesses"

The "problem" with that theory is that there are 5 Monsanto related songs on the album, and the other selections are primarily not Neil's lyrical strongest works. The exceptions are:

After the Gold Rush
Western Hero
Hippie Dream
Human Highway
Love and Only Love (maybe)

The other songs range in songwriting quality from weak to so-so (though earnest).

However, Like you I'm looking forward to the album. It appears like the Billboard writer generally had good things to say, while also calling it one of the quirkiest live albums of all-time. As for Rolling Stone, I sensed they weren't too impressed, but it's hard to tell as it was still largely a puff-piece.

Also, I'm still a little uncertain whether or not the songs on the album are full versions or snippets of the songs. One quote I read somewhere made it seem a little unclear...
but this quote "It’s a sonic hybrid not quite like anything ever before heard in rock history" has me ready with my headphones!


Take my advice
don't listen to me

 
At 5/09/2016 04:13:00 AM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

TopangaDaze: I meant more that, as all the songs are already written, Neil has bypassed the weakest link in his creative process.

I used Americana as a similar example. The truth is a lot of the songs on Americana aren't that great, either, but freed of the requirement to write songs, Neil applies himself in other creative ways, which makes the album an enjoyable listen. It's got some substance, you can get your teeth into it.

The Monsanto songs he's picked aren't the best songs in the world but they were generally performed quite well last year. These songs were specifically written to be played with POTR, and therefore suit the 3-guitar arrangement better than some of the classics.

Having said that, perhaps the Monsanto songs are not best suited to a dream-like ("stop thinking") album like this. Are GMOs good or bad, or someone in the middle? What about Monsanto? It's a complicated subject, and not something to jump to an opinion about over some "Willie's Reserve". In recent years Young is becoming more-and-more involved in subjects rooted strongly in science (electric cars, sound tech, GMOs) and this doesn't necessarily jibe very well with his dreamy, meditative style of music.

Western Hero, Hippie Dream, Love And Only Love, Country Home etc etc....I love all those songs. I'm not neccessarily enamoured with the 2015 versions of them, but they certainly fit in, thematically. Regardless of what this album sounds like, I like the idea of it, the concept. I get the sense this is the sort of thing he wanted to do in the eighties with Bryan Bell, and he's finally got round to bringing it to life. You have to applaud the man for continuing to find ways to create. It's easier said than done.

Don Ho: I don't think Neil will be selling many copies of this album, even if it does end up on itunes (which I suspect it will, at some point). Yes, the price of the Pono version is high, but only about three people are going to buy it. I respectfully disagree and say this is the opposite of a commercial project. This is Neil Young applying his creativity, not cashing-in. If you want to see a cash-in, the mega-concert in October is perhaps more appropriate.

Scotsman.

 
At 5/09/2016 05:05:00 AM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

PS

Neil's views on hi-res audio remain very muddled. He continues to confuse two similar subjects ("quality of sound" and "quality of experience"). He's misdiagnosed the problem, like a surgeon chopping out the wrong organ.

I fondly remember the days when one could buy a new album and enjoy it purely on the merit of the music, without being encouraged to obsess over what resolution it was recorded at. He's largely talking nonsense, but of course, no one is going to call him out on it. As usual, Poncho is the one of the only ones left who isn't scared to voice a contrary opinion.

Incidentally, I can get on board with the boycott of itunes (I agree that the experience is substandard). But it's got absolutely nothing to do with technical sound quality, as claimed. And anyone who has ever enjoyed listening to a 3rd-generation audience tape will testify that the correlation between sound quality and enjoyment is tenuous, at best. Great music breaks down most barriers.

Scotsman.

 
At 5/09/2016 11:41:00 AM, Blogger Don Ho said...

Hi Res is supposed to be mastered @ higher than CD standards.
yet MOST of what is offered for sale @ Pono Music World is 16/44.1
CD Res
And now Neil is doing an about face concerning Streaming Audio via Jay Z's Tidal @,
you guessed it, 16/44.1

"I'm droppin' my standards, so I can by more" - The Kinks/Low Budget

www.ponosucks.com

 
At 5/09/2016 03:49:00 PM, Blogger Minke Toer said...

Holy Francis. Neil talking to the birds. I'm not sure whether this is an alluring prospect, but hey, let's say I'm curious. Speculating about the content of the record does not really help, unless more details follow. Why didn't he include Danger Bird, or just Birds, for that matter. Running through the catalogue, we meet praying mantises, eagles, dogs (no cats, as far as I can remember), buffaloes, so there your entire Arc for you. Did anyone already comment on the religious connotations of this project? That reminds me of another musician using bird sounds in his music -- Olivier Messiaen, who used to observe birds' songs and integrate their melodies in his scores. I am not religious in any accepted sense, but this earth-music has a deep religious undercurrent.
Commercial? Of course not. Young knows better than anyone else that in his seventies, he's not going to make much money out of his new records. But hey, that's what gives him his freedom. He can follow any caprice or impulse where his fantasy or creative moment brings him. It's proof of his craftsmanship that every time he can do what he likes and it turns out to be well done. It's all one song, he seems to say (well, he says it), and that song is LIFE.
Cheers to you all

 
At 5/10/2016 05:40:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

I've had to read this a few times what a load of nonsense...or is it me?

“There’s a scene in it where a bat flies down the street, and you’re the bat,” he said. “You can’t hear, but sounds are coming out, the bat is turning and turning and you feel like you’re the bat, like you’re moving through space. I never forgot that scene, or the power of being the bat.”

 
At 5/10/2016 10:04:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Hey Andy, it's you (and many others), but it's not me. That's actually a very cogent description given by Neil and it makes more sense than many others describing the album. I'm still trying to decipher what the "Vanilla singers corporate harmony" means, but I bought that ticket and I'll take that ride.

My expectations for the Earth album have been all over the map. It could be great, it could be terrible, it could be mediocre, and worse yet, it could be boring. I'm really just hoping it's not stale, amateurish and hurriedly patched together. A few of the descriptions make it sound like it's a unique aural quirky and trippy experience, and that sounds good to me.

I'm open to an unorthodox sonic soundscape experience if that's indeed what Neil delivers. That sounds conceptually better to me than another "traditional" live album rehash...

Take my advice
don't listen to me

 
At 5/10/2016 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Raincheck said...

I hope it's great. I no longer anticipate Neil's albums. I used to get excited, there the first day to buy it. It been years. Every one has moments for me, I still love his sound. This one is interesting certainly. I generally find that the more conceptual the album is the weaker the songs, but here the songs are pre-existing and the concept is overlaid, so I don't know what to think.

 
At 5/10/2016 11:06:00 PM, Blogger (D.) Ian Kertis said...

Scotsman--

I haven't heard any of the album yet ("there's a Pono comin' but it's not for me!"), but I'm also quite enthusiastic about the new sonic elements we may be getting for this album. I'm always happy for Neil to veer off in new directions and am certainly open to new sounds. This should be one of the more interesting things he's done in a while, not to mention being the first live album in about fifteen years. Not counting Archives releases, I believe the last was Road Rock (which I only really return to for Cowgirl in the Sand and maybe Words), and before that it was Year of the Horse. The point is, you can't do the same thing over and over again, especially if you've been around for almost half a century, and we shouldn't hold Neil Young or anyone else to restrictive standard based on a nostalgic desire for something that may reflect the sounds we loved before.

Speaking of sounds, I think the "quality versus experience" issue you brought up is tricky, especially because quality is… well… qualitative. That is to say, it's at least somewhat subjective, if we're actually looking at what the word means. Somewhere along the line, phrases like "picture quality" and "sound quality" came into vogue, and that may be where quality as a concept got crossed with technical specifications like recording and mastering resolution and digital file compression--all of which is still partially a foreign language to me. I'd argue that "quality", in this new sense of the word, is likely to have some impact on your listening experience, but to what degree they are intertwined and what the precise nature of that impact could be, seems unwise to generalize. In other words, there are times when a higher resolution or lesser compression is going to lead to--for some listeners--a qualitatively better experience. But those specifications are not the only factor in a qualitative experience. Other than that, it's difficult to say anything for certain.

Minke Toer--Very good observations. Yes, "Birds" (one of my favorite songs) would have been a nice inclusion here alongside "After the Goldrush", and it does seem a like missed opportunity. But we'll have to wait and see/hear. And cheers on the Messiaen reference. He happens to be one of my favorite twentieth century composers.

 
At 5/11/2016 01:09:00 AM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

This is a live album from the POTR tour, they didn't play Birds (or Dangerbird).

 
At 5/11/2016 04:53:00 AM, Blogger Barry Cameron said...

Scotsman and Topanga,

I am with you on this one. I think Neil is right.
Why on earth would he want to try and replicate the Horse with POTR. In the Studio or LIVE.

The state of play as it stands is that we have our master and the master he is. He has experienced creative riches that are beyond most artists. He has ploughed his own field in his own way in his own time.

Nobody is going to change that so what do we do?

We have to just go with the flow, the feeling the vibe the now and detach from constraints of modern living.

I think what Neil is trying to merge is perhaps his longstanding theme that has been running throughout his art since the move to the Ranch. So many stories so many instances but Neil has ALWAYS been in connection with Nature.

From listening to record playbacks in the middle of his lake, to recording Will to Love in front of fire, to incorporating his life with Ben into his early 80s work, to overdubbing Blowing in the wind on Weld tour and my particular favourite, watching him sniff and scratch and howl and Hammersmith in 2008 while playing Old King.

What i am trying to say i s that i think this Album is nothing new, nothing to be surprised about and nothing to be daunted by. He is taking environmental concepts like recycling his work and applying the juxtapose of nature into the thread of that work.

I admit... initially i was not so sure but this morning it completely clicked with me.

I was walking the dog out in the fields, it is is 7am, its misty, its getting warm, its hazy. I started singing No Hidden Path to myself and i became aware that i was taking the song as it was meant to be listened to. Not in a room. Not on Pono. Not on £500 headphones but in the space of my mind ... i became aware of the trees, the birds whistling , the little burn (stream) trickling by the bottom of the slope and the dog snorting and sniffing in the grass....

as it was imagined by the guy who created it.
This is his gift to me - one that is mine - whenever and however i see fit.

I think that is the real value in the art Neil give me. I can take it apply in the context i feel works for me.

I think this is what Earth is created to be. I think it will take a leap of faith from most and a persons actual belief in being a nature loving and spiritually connected person to our planet. If you have this in you i think Earth will resonate deeply for a long long time.

If you dont' feel that way then you may struggle with this one.

Barry Cameron

 
At 5/11/2016 08:46:00 AM, Blogger Dominic Holdem said...

dude's finally lost it.

 
At 5/11/2016 11:11:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Barry,

Your words succinctly said all that really need be said:

I admit... initially i was not so sure but this morning it completely clicked with me.

I was walking the dog out in the fields, it is is 7am, its misty, its getting warm, its hazy. I started singing No Hidden Path to myself and i became aware that i was taking the song as it was meant to be listened to. Not in a room. Not on Pono. Not on £500 headphones but in the space of my mind ... i became aware of the trees, the birds whistling , the little burn (stream) trickling by the bottom of the slope and the dog snorting and sniffing in the grass....

as it was imagined by the guy who created it.
This is his gift to me - one that is mine - whenever and however i see fit.

I think that is the real value in the art Neil give me. I can take it apply in the context i feel works for me.
_____________________________________________________
Beautiful sentiments, and they tie in nicely with Micah Nelson's thoughts on another thread here..

Take my advice
don't listen to me

 
At 5/13/2016 05:25:00 AM, Blogger Barry Cameron said...

thanks mate... just trying to say it how i feel it.

its funny when sometimes things make more sense when you just break it down to the simplest little parts.

easier to appreciate them that way.

Barry Cameron

 

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