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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ALBUM REVIEW OF THE MOMENT: EARTH by Neil Young + Promise of the Real

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Neil Young's "Earth" (cover)

Here's an album review on Neil Young + Promise of the Real's new album EARTH released last week by Scotsman:

I get this album. It's on my wavelength.

To be clear, this isn't best interpreted as a live album, a concert souvenir. And to be honest, would a "normal" live album from 2015 really be such an exciting prospect, in the wider scheme of things? These raw performances are respectable enough, for sure, but if you 'just' want a great live album of top-class live performances, stop wasting time and put on something from 1991.

But this record is so much more than that, in some ways; more far-reaching, more ambitious, more creative. All the "extra stuff" (that people are so unsure about) is the whole point.

I'll mention now that this is a very dynamic record. You really have to crank it up, and then it comes to life. Hippie Dream simmers away at moderate volume, and then suddenly has you by the throat.

The Vampire in Vampire Blues is a particularly vicious character here. Almost as vicious as Neil's frenzied lead guitar playing on Hippie Dream (one of a few moments on this album that feel truly reminiscent of the masterpiece that is Weld). This violence all feels a million miles away from those nature sounds. And that's surely part of the point.

Rather than being a distraction, it's the integration of all the wildly-creative overdubs and animal sounds that allow this album to punch solidly above its weight. The field recordings are charming and soothing; the auto-tuned backing vocals are strangely moving. It's a very "wide" record that captures a lot. Beauty and ugliness combined: and it's not always clear from the outset which is which. That is, until Neil makes it obvious, as the songs break down into chaos.

For example, Monsanto Years, where the sound is so purposefully dis-jointed (and the overdubs so purposefully overdone) that you feel like the world is collapsing around you, like a hole is being torn in the fabric of time and space. You feel like you've been turned inside out. There are some great sounds, a great cross-section of life in all its forms.

It's scrappy, it's messy, it's fun; it has the same wild abandon (and the same happy appeal) as a painting done by a young child.

That's what he's done. He's combined the wisdom and shrewd observations of an old man with the joyous expressiveness of a small child. That reminds me of Greendale. No small accomplishment. Something to be proud of.

I'd like to send a copy of this review to Neil. I would get some satisfaction from saying to him "yes, I get this. You've got through to me. You've built something for me".

And I think he'd get some satisfaction from hearing that, too.

Thanks all.

Thanks Scotsman. Nice. We get EARTH, too. Same frequency and wavelength beaming right back you and all the REAL'ers out there.

More album reviews of Neil Young + Promise of the Real's new album EARTH.

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At 6/29/2016 01:54:00 PM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

"Music is a means of Rapid Transportation."
--John Cage

"Where the eye divides, the ear connect."
--John Luther Adams

I am a scientist
I seek to understand me
I am an incurable
And nothing else behaves like me
--Robert Pollard

Be kind whenever possible.
It is always possible.
--Dalai Lama

At 6/29/2016 05:20:00 PM, Blogger Joe Werfelman said...

Scotsman nailed this completely. There's so
much more to this album. The whole as they say is greater than the sum of all its parts.
This is Neil's most creative record since Greendale. The story ebbs and flows like life
itself and we are all interconnected.
I think Earth would have been even stronger
as a one disc set. Pull out Monsonto and cut
out about half of LAOL. It's a minor quibble
though and I am very impressed with this

At 6/29/2016 10:08:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

You rule Scotsman. Great review, great album. It's all one song indeed but man that Vampire Blues.....

At 6/30/2016 02:02:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

These are lovely comments from the Scotsman. I emphatically agree that although the basic tracks constituting Earth were recorded before live audiences, this album as a whole is more and simply other than a live concert tour record. I picked up my copy of Earth (CD) on Saturday, and am still digesting. The 28-minute "Love and Only Love" will, on its own, require extensive further listening. This will certainly go down as another in the long line of Neil's highly unique projects. Can anyone recall a previous album with a concept in the same ballpark, let alone comparable results?

Various observations are currently swimming around my brain: Neil sounds in fine voice overall. He's clearly signing in a lower range/register than he used to, which is understandable and not at all a problem. It's just interesting to note these changes. I don't have, and have never had, a problem with the nature sounds and other overdubs on this album generally. Some are exceptionally well-timed and even amusing. The bird sounds on My Country Home remind me of John Lennon's Good Morning, Good Morning from Sgt. Pepper's: the wild electric guitar mingling with cackling and cawing. Funny, atmospheric, and inspired.

One of my favorite band performances captured here is Vampire Blues, complete with bat sound effects. The chorus chanting "Chevron, Chevron" may be a bridge too far, but any venial missteps is outweighed by PotR along with Neil's spot on vocal. Likewise, the Monsanto Years, the song, was not my favorite part the studio album. The lyrics remain extraordinarily topical, but hearing it again in this context has reminded me that the melody is just beautifully constructed. And did anyone else notice that this live recording omits the lyric about the farmer's kid getting sick from the use of the pesticide? That, to me, is actually a nice show of restraint and taste.

On another note, some of the more unusual selections are highlights: Mother Earth opens the album perfectly and hits the nail on the head, and I'm just as glad this recording can reclaim Hippie Dream from the flawed Landing on Water album. The biggest surprise, though, is Western Hero. The entire Sleeps with Angels album is almost like one long deep track, and I really appreciate seeing/hearing it revisited in any form.

One last thing: as others have said, Seed Justice, the only new song, does indeed kick ass. Sure, the lyric is unrefined and feels a little slapped together in places, but I'm talking about the overall sound and feeling of the performance. That's some powerful, exciting music. The tension and release between the verse and chorus melodies is tremendous and the band hot, amply aided by some voices representing the earth's fauna. I always thought PotR, as a band, sounded good on the studio album. From other comments here, they may have had teething problems learning how to work with what Neil's doing in a live concert setting, but this album is further of what The Monsanto Years already told me, that PotR have real potential. What's more, I think Neil has found the right band for these (Monsanto) songs, since PotR seems to share enough of his aesthetic and ideals.

At 6/30/2016 07:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks all for the nice comments. Appreciated. Good review Ian.

By the way, It has come to my attention that a few folks are making comments elsewhere that suggest this album is "flat" sounding, or "lacking in dynamics", "lifeless". Etc etc.

This is not true. On the contrary, it is a VERY dynamic record, which is what some people are mistaking for "lifelessness". Because of the wide dynamic range, you really do need to crank it up to bring it to life.

Have you ever noticed when you watch a movie that the talking parts are usually very quiet? You have to really turn up the volume to hear what people are saying; but then when the gunfire starts (or whatever), it suddenly gets REALLY loud? Well, it's exactly the same thing happening here.

For my copy of Earth, I have to have the volume control set a good 10-15%% louder to get the same amount of average volume as I get from more compressed records (such as Psych Pill, Monsanto Years, Bluenote Cafe etc). And then it sounds fine.

In short, people who think this record sounds "flat" have forgotten what a volume control does. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with louder, more compressed, less dynamic records. I love that loud and hard-hitting sound. Both styles have their merits. But to say that this particular record is lacking in dynamics is quite incorrect.

It's interesting that it is mainly the Pono (e.g supposed sound-quality lovers) crowd who mostly seem dissapointed with the sound of this album, despite it being one of the most dynamic records in the whole of the Young catalogue.

I'll agree that Big Box in particular is lacking in punch, but that has been done purposefully. It's like a battle is going on between the song and genetic modification, big business etc. The coporations try to crush the life out of the song. And so the volume (and clarity) varies radically throughout the song for dramatic effect. If you want a more-straightforward, punchy version, then listen to the orginal studio take, which is mastered more loudly.

...Also, this is a good time to note that I do not post comments on any other Neil forum, including Facebook. But if anyone else wants to link to these sentiments there, then you are most welcome to do so.


At 6/30/2016 07:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


A few more observations (feel free to skip these if you are one of those who I habitually wind up with my "tedious", "long-winded" comments).

There are definitely some valid comparisons between this record and Landing On Water and Life. Not in a bad way! But a purposefully-artificial sound quality is there on all three albums. A mix of organic and electronic. And, if you are like me, Steve Jordan's screams on "Pressure" will instantly remind you of the Crow on Earth.

The Crazy Horse songs on Earth strike me as the least impressive performances. Not because they are bad, but because previous versions with the Horse remain definitive. For instance, Western Hero sounds good, but the studio version is in another league. The 1994 version is more mysterious, more engaging, more rewarding to listen to. It goes deeper. He whispers, he doesn't shout. He sings to you, rather than at you (as Bob Dylan says).

Lastly, my comment above about sound quality wasn't meant to imply this record is a 10/10 masterpiece of sound quality. It's not (and it's not meant to be). I mean, it's sourced from very variable live recordings, so there are some limitations. Look to classic studio albums like Sleeps With Angels or Zuma for sound-quality excellence, courtesy of a certain Mr Briggs. I just wanted to help correct the misunderstanding that this is a "lifeless" or "not dynamic" album.


At 6/30/2016 09:20:00 AM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Thanks again sir Scotsman. I'm still waiting to receive my copy of Earth from Amazon. Hopefully today. Your review is inspired and only makes the wait that much more frustrating. Thanks to everyone here for the passion and honesty about this remarkable artist.

At 6/30/2016 12:03:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

The sound comparison to Landing on Water and Life as "purposefully-artificial" is spot on. I'm in the minority, but I've always loved those two albums, and Earth does indeed share a similar alchemy between the artificially polished and unique quirky Neil flourishes distinguishing it from others.

In some ways, Earth is another "resurgence" in Neil's career. You can love the album or hate it, but it's not boring. It's a unique statement of willful defiance towards the status quo. Things are changing as they always have, but everyone and everything plays a role in it. What's real, what's not? Nature by definition isn't artificial, but we are quickly creating a new natural world. Can we? Yes, but should we?

Take my advice
don't listen to me

At 6/30/2016 03:39:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

from a recent interview:

Young said that he would only be making the album available on vinyl, CD, and PONO. His hatred of MP3s has led to him encouraging fans to illegally download the files rather than having him sell them. “We want everybody to have it,” he said. “I don’t give a shit. Yeah, it’s like, I can’t sell that crap. Go make it yourself and take it home.”

He even went so far as to tell listeners to just rip the files straight from TIDAL. “If you wanna get it, I think they play the whole album on TIDAL in a couple of weeks. Go onto TIDAL and just record it off of TIDAL! It’s gonna be 441 [Hz]. So that way everybody can get it, ’cause I’m not selling them. I’m not selling the MP3. When I start talking like that, my manager shows up.”

At 6/30/2016 06:55:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Mr Henry - always some WORDS (between the lines of ages)

@ joseph - The Scotsman did nail it nicely.

So the most creative record since Greendale? That's a good one to discuss. But you can not cut
out about half of LAOL. We think the extended jams are all part of the experience. But that's just us.

@ Ol Neg - good to see you so positive.

@ Ian - We like it when you share what's swimming around your brain. Good call on My Country Home and Lennon's Good Morning,

And, no we missed the lyric omission. But squirrels don't eat GMO's lyrics are still there!

@ flyingscotzman - thanks again for nice review.

oh, where might it have come to your attention that this album is "flat" sounding, Etc etc.?!

Turn up the volume. it seems so obvious...

@ Dan - hope your fix arrives soon so you can share some reactions.

@ TopangaDa - "purposefully-artificial" is a puzzling observation. There's no way around that what is left in your head after playing

@Dan ha. here comes Elliot right now...

At 6/30/2016 09:54:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

just heard the album for the first time. i can't tell if neil is taking too many drugs or too few. what a mess this album is, but it was a funny listen nonetheless. i was out in the mountains picking berries and some of those animals noises threw me for a loop.

now it's off to bull moose to cancel my vinyl pre order.

At 7/01/2016 04:30:00 AM, Blogger ANDREW BYROM said...

@thrasher The flat comment is over on Facebook on the public Rustie page. I'm not on FB but do read this public page as its a good location to get WeTransfer downloads of shows.

I've been playing the album pretty much none stop since I finally managed to download it. Bizarrely on my mac I can play the HiRes 192/24 version, however I can't transfer it to my iPod because of the sample rate, I've created a AAC version for that purpose.

As for the album, I am really enjoying it, to steal Ian McMabbs quote over on FB, this is the most produced album since Neil's debut. Makes a change from the lofi, first unrehearsed take will do mantra of recent albums. Particularly enjoying Vampire Blues, Hippie Dream, Big Box & surprisingly Wolf Moon, which prior to this album I thought was a throwaway.

Quick question though, given I only have the download until the vinyl turns up and I can't read any credits, who sings the line on People Want To Hear About Love? (the line starts; It's better saying....)

At 7/01/2016 04:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Thrasher.

I do understand why folks might think this record is "flat" sounding. In some ways, I agree with them, because the sound hasn't been heavily compressed or boosted during mastering. A lot of Neil's recent records are quite heavily-compressed, and there is nothing wrong with that: it makes them sound powerful and punchy, even at quiet volumes. But this one has instead been treated like a film soundtrack; the quiet bits are very quiet and the loud bits are very loud.

So you have to turn up the volume, rather than allowing the mastering to simulate loudness for you. I don't mean ear-damagingly loud! Just loud enough to get a good sound going.

Topanga: I'm also a fan of Landing On Water and Life. Or rather, I don't think they are as bad as their reputation suggests. There are some weak tracks, and the mixes are generally poor. But they are both creative records with some exciting songs and unusual sounds.

Today I'm waiting for my copy of Rust Never Sleeps on blu-ray to arrive. Hopefully it will be delivered quicker than Dan Swan's copy of Earth!

Dan Swan, I think you will love this album. You might well "get it" on first listen, but don't worry if you don't. It will quickly grow on you after a couple more listens over a couple of days, as your mind adjusts to the 'different' sound of the overdubs. Honestly, as someone who isn't overly impressed by 2015-era POTR, I have found this record to be a lot of fun, a whole world of sound to get lost in.


At 7/01/2016 04:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just to clarify that I do not write on the rust facebook group, or indeed any other Neil blog or forum.


At 7/01/2016 04:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew: I too found that Wolf Moon sounds better (and fits better) here than on the studio album.

Within reason, don't worry TOO much about the resolution of the audio. You may even find the ipod version sounds better than the bigger version on your mac: but it depends largely on the quality of your soundcard, digital-analog-converter etc etc.

The main thing is to just relax and enjoy the music. Some people are so obsessive and uptight about audio resolutions that they can't possibly relax enough, and miss the point of the music entirely. Like someone staring intently at the pixels on a TV screen, wondering why she is not enjoying the program.

Indeed, Neil spent so much time worrying about sound quality between 2005-2011 that he forgot to write any decent songs.*

* (Yes I know, I'm exaggerating, don't write me any angry letters).



At 7/01/2016 06:50:00 AM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

@Andrew: The PWTHAL guest vocal is by rapper/singer D.R.A.M. (with the horn part by his pal Nico Segal, aka Donnie Trumpet).

At 7/01/2016 07:16:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Neil to make a new record with Susan Boyle ?

At 7/01/2016 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Neil seems to be taking just the right amount of drugs these days. Thanks Thrasher. It's nice to have a record to be so positive about!

At 7/02/2016 12:11:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Great Review! (Of a Not So Great Album, imo)

Here's another Great Review of sumthin else that's not so great:

At 8/22/2016 05:47:00 PM, Blogger Devin said...

Great review! I've had the CD version since early July and have been loving it in my car. Love the mix of songs from throughout his career, and the new versions of Vampire Blues, Western Hero, Hippie Dream and Human Highway are worth the price of admission. I like the lower vocals of this 21st century rendition of the classic After the Gold Rush. Amazing the original is over 40 years old! I don't love the last four songs as much, although they sound better here than they did on Monsanto Years. Wolf Moon is a cool song. Love and Only Love drags on too much at the end too, but that's a minor complaint.

Am debating getting the 3xLP vinyl version now... Anyone listened to both and have any thoughts on the sound /packaging etc comparisons? The obsessive completionist in me wants to get it, but it is pricey!


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