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Sunday, October 18, 2020

Neil Young Archives: The Next 10 Years (2010-2020) – A Retrospective by Lone Red Rider

Neil Young Archives Volume II (1972 - 1976)


Thrasher's Wheat proudly presents this exclusive retrospective on the legendary Neil Young Archives by the ever intrepid and dauntless Lone Red Rider.



 Neil Young Archives Volume II (1972 - 1976)


 Neil Young Archives – The Next 10 Years (2010-2020) – A Retrospective by Lone Red Rider

"I'd rather be making new music.

But I want to set the record straight as much as I can. Through outtakes and chosen cuts I'm going to try to bring out more of the feeling that's hidden in those records. I think I can enhance the experience by putting them all in a long line, shortening them, and changing them." – 1989 – The Village Voice.

When Neil Young Archives Volume One was released in June of 2009, it was both groundbreaking and anachronistic all at once. 

On the one hand, it was released in the highest fidelity format of the day, Blu-Ray, allowing for high-resolution sound simultaneous with 1080p picture. Beyond that, it enabled Neil to realize his vision to allow a user to browse archival content while listening to the music. The graphical presentation was a brilliant Steam Punk homage to an old filing cabinet and a schoolteacher’s timeline. There was also a feature by which the archive could be dynamically added to, via a download mechanism called “BD-Live”. But on the other hand, the interface was clunky for what it needed to do. A remote control was needed to scroll through the archives in order to select and zoom into various artifacts. Things were hidden, needing effort and perseverance similar to what would be required in an old-school point-and-click treasure hunting video game. And a basic search feature was non-existent. More than once, I had wished I could move the experience from my TV to a desktop or tablet, and just swipe my way through the content. 

But in the end, after 20 years of waiting for Volume One, I was satisfied to finally get “The Neil Young Box Set” whose idea had become a myth in my mind. How many more volumes lay in wait?

NYA Vol #1: Coming in 2007! (according to official Reprise site in 2008, still?!)


“Maybe four, maybe five. It depends on how much cutting and paring down we do, and how much we get into using BD-Live, which is a really remarkable thing. One thing I'll tell you about the next volume of Archives is that Time Fades Away II is in there. And it's interesting because the whole thing has a different drummer than what was on (Time Fades Away). It's a completely different thing, with completely different songs. So that's interesting. There's lots of stuff like that that I'm working on right now for the second volume.” – October 2009, Guitar World.
 1st night with Neil Young Archives Vol#1 by John R., New York


“Volume 2 promises even more content than Volume 1, with many unreleased tracks. Four unreleased albums from this period are being rebuilt and will be available in the NYA Special Release Series. Chrome Dreams, Homegrown and Oceanside-Countryside are the three unreleased studio albums. Also from this period is the unreleased Odeon-Budokan live recording produced by David Briggs and Tim Mulligan.” – Neil’s Website, NY Times, 2010.


Upon release of Volume One, manager Elliott Roberts announced a 3 years gap to the next installment in the Archives box series, Volume Two, considered by many to contain the crown jewels of Neil’s unreleased works. Neil had already started to tease its contents in the press and on his website. “Archives Guy”, Neil’s archives public relations agent, was probing the fandom for suggestions on upcoming BD-Live releases and teasing progress on Volume Two (ie: “Disk 0 is sitting in my truck” or “Working on Disk 6, Zuma out-takes”).  But within a year of the release of Volume One, cracks were already forming in the edifice. The steady stream of monthly (usually coinciding with full moons) BD-Live downloads suddenly stopped. The road for Neil was forking again, but why, and how? Shortly after Volume One was released, Neil formed a company to bring high-resolution music to the masses. In 2012 on the Letterman Show, Neil surprised the world by presenting a yellow, prism shaped device called the PONO player for high-resolution audio (HRA) playback. Ultimately, he delivered a full music delivery ecosystem including the player, a music manager and a download store. How would this new technology influence (or side-track) future installments of the Archives saga?

Zak Claxton and Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 Review

“So, we're making good progress on Volume 2 and we've actually compiled it all the way up to volume five. So it's a matter of manufacturing and putting it finally together and also figuring out the technology and working it into PONO.” Neil Young, WMMR, Neil Young with Pierre, 2012.
  Whiskey (Heidi's dog) Admires NYA Vol#1 - 2009

"We are making it suitable for computers. We are also altering Volume 1 for that, that isn't a lot of work. The advantage of the computer version is that we're not constricted by the disks, and that the digital file cabinet that we started can go on infinitely.” – NY.  Biarritz, Constant Meijers interview, July 2013

“ (Archives Volume 1 and – eventually – Volume 2 will arrive on PONO). We’ll be doing enhanced metadata in the store, you will be able to click on that album, and download an extremely large .pdf with all the news that’s fit to print about when it was recorded, who recorded it, who produced it, who were the musicians…all that kind of good stuff…”–Bruce Botnick, PONO, VP of content acquisition, UNCUT, April 2015
   NYA Vol#1 Box set Design by Gary Burden

Were the Archives somehow transitioning from a physical medium into the digital realm? I could not fully grasp the messages in the press, trying to wrap my head around the big picture of how this all would work. Would I be scanning through the extended meta-data for videos and photos on a laptop or tablet while the music played from the PONO player? Would I be experiencing the Archives on a computer? Not really knowing, I suspected that Volume Two would somehow require a PONO player to experience it and so I purchased one. With PONO in hand, I patiently awaited the release of Volume Two while updating my music collection to HRA. But the wait was proven fruitless. PONO went belly up before it could be a part of anything interesting for the Archives. In fact an HRA download of Volume One was never even made available in the PONO store. What, then, of the future of Volume Two



“It'll be finished this summer. All of the music will be done. It goes just past Rust Never Sleeps. It's full of albums that weren't there before: stuff I did that I never put out. The rest will come out pretty quickly. While we've been working on 'Volume II,' we've been working on the other volumes. I've gotten to the point where I've made a template for how to release it in the future, if I can't do it myself. I've also done a lot of it myself. The quality is there. It’s a model for how to preserve music.” – NY, Rolling Stone, May 2014.


“ At the moment I speak, the contents of the box is defined. It's finished but it will leave only when we have the right technology to present the way I want.” –Neil Young, Rock and Folk, June 2016.



 NYA Vol #1: The Holy Grail

As the decade neared it’s halfway point, roughly 5 years after the release of Volume One, there were finally comments in the press that one seemingly could hang their hats on. The musical contents of Volume Two were complete. This was also a period of transition for Neil. Amidst a divorce from his wife of 36 years, Neil was vacating his Broken Arrow Ranch home studio, Redwood Digital, the location where all of his archival work had been done to date. Neil’s studio staff was moving on as well, some leaving vague-yet-tantalizing hints on their on-line professional profiles as to what they had been working on during their end days at the ranch. But there was still no indication as to what the delivery technology for Volume Two was intended to be. My latest fear was that now the wait would be for high resolution streaming which did not seem to be anywhere on the horizon.


There is the not so small matter of his ongoing Archives project; specifically, the status of Vol2. "I'm putting a website out, probably just before Christmas," (Neil) reveals. "It'll be my entire archives on a website. You can listen to music, and you'll see where the albums are that are penciled in, not finished. From throughout a 40 or 50 year span, you'll see unfinished records behind you, in front of you, right now, way in the future."  -NY. UNCUT, June 2016.
Neil Young Archives Storyboard


After he wraps his current tour in October, Young will continue work on Archives II, the follow-up to 2009's Archives, which collected unreleased material up to 1972. Young says the project will include Dume, an album of songs from the Zuma era, and Hitchhiker, an acoustic LP from the mid-Seventies. The major hold-up has been developing technology for presenting the ambitious project: "We're gonna have a website that's, like, 60 years of music in chronological order, with links so you can look at my archives and play the music off the high-res source at the same time."– Rolling Stone, July 14, 2016.



In the summer of 2016, the next point of clarity on Neil’s Archives arrived. The Archives would be presented as an on-line experience. Though, initially, how it would fulfill the requirement of high-resolution music delivery was unclear. Then in April of 2017 Neil announced that Xstream, a high resolution streaming service, was on its way. Built on the adaptive bitrate streaming platform of Orastream, but optimized for 192/24 playback, the technology would stream music at the highest of thousands of possible levels of resolution that ones internet connection could allow. It was to be a demonstration of Neil’s goal to stream high-resolution music at low-res prices. But the low-price concept was a huge stumbling block for Xstream, contractually. No label went for that deal except for Neil’s own label Reprise. So, the only demonstration of Xstream was to be for Neil’s music alone. The project would be known as “Xstream-by-NYA”.

The Shroud of Archives: Tracklisting of NYA Vol #1 Unfurled
Neil Young @ JavaOne Conference - 05/06/2008


In mid 2017, NYA (Neil Young Archives) made its first web presence in the form of an image of the familiar file cabinet with a sticky note: “Coming Soon”. On December 1st, after what turned out to be more than seven years in development, the cabinet formally opened as a free music streaming service. It stood apart from other music streaming services in that it offered single artist high resolution streaming (using Xstream-by-NYA technology). But it also replicated the full functionality of the Neil Young Archives Blu-Rays, including the timeline and file cabinet interface, updated for web technology. While NYA addressed many of the complaints of the Blu-Ray navigation upon launch, it was not quite what many archives followers were expecting. Firstly, it was glaringly incomplete as an archive. It was omitting materials released as a part of the Volume One box set so many years ago. Many of the now-familiar videos, set lists and BD-Live contents made available in the Volume One Box Set were not present on NYA.  Secondly, whole eras of music were initially unavailable: the Geffen years, CSNY content, the Buffalo Springfield Box Set and cover songs scattered throughout Neil’s discography were all missing. And thirdly, Volume Two was nowhere to be found among the contents! Many, but not all, of these issues were resolved by the time NYA matured to the point where it could be offered as a subscription service with a mobile app component in late 2018. But at that point it was clear that NYA was just another tool to distribute released music.

The Archives Vault
An Undisclosed Bunker Location


In 2019, NYA expanded into video content streaming in the form of a “Movie Night” feature, effectively a 24x7 pre-programmed Neil Young TV channel. Fan engagement with NYA in 2019 was enabled through a “Letters To the Editor” feature. This proved to be another mechanism for Neil to hype added NYA features including the forthcoming Volume Two content, now known to be a 10 CD set spanning 1972-1976. There would be no Blu-Ray version of Volume Two because the website would cover the high-res music and overall organization aspects of the physical Blu-Ray disks. One intriguing promise was the delivery of exclusive song content through NYA. But throughout all of 2019, promises to deliver exclusive musical content were left unfulfilled.  Neil suggested in a letter response to fans that contractual reasons were preventing unreleased tracks from being added to NYA until 2020, but that by 2020 “it could be a deluge”.

Joel Bernstein, NYA Archivist


With a July 2020 release date penciled in for Volume Two, a global pandemic strikes, delaying all of Neil’s planned release projects. But by early summer, we did get the legendary Homegrown release from the Volume Two time frame. By late summer, the first salvo of NYA exclusive outtakes and demos was added, including a Harvest era outtake, “Dance, Dance, Dance” with Tony Joe White’s distinctive guitar playing. Additionally, the BD-Live updates from Volume One have been promised as a part of the Outtakes/Demos release program. And now, I think we can actually believe it. The promise of exclusive material on NYA is being fulfilled.

Ben Johnson sets up a scene filming NYA#1

On September 20th the complete track listing for Neil Young Archives Volume II (1972-1976) was finally unveiled on NYA. It was immediately clear that this set had some interesting differences compared with the first volume. The maniacal chronological ordering which characterized the first set is not present on the new set. Volume Two is presented approximately chronologically. Neil still roughly follows his template with the focus on related eras and locations. The Time Fades Away, Tonight’s The Night, On The Beach, Zuma and Long May You Run albums are re-extruded through the die of pseudo-chronology with some familiar cuts omitted and outtakes interspersed throughout. The exceptions are Homegrown, Tuscaloosa, and Odeon-Budokan (live 1976 Crazy Horse, appearing for the first time in Volume 2), which are presented as originally conceived, even though they break the overall chronology of the set. Certainly having the on-line version of NYA to cover the purely chronological exploration of Neil’s work could liberate that requirement from the box sets and allow Neil an additional degree of freedom to create the listening experience he wants for his Archive Box Set Disks.  Here, all retrospection, introspection, speculation and theorizing stops. All that is left is to finally listen, when the set becomes available (currently scheduled for 20-Nov-20). The reviews that count the most are the ones to be written in your hearts.  

John Nowland (left) w/ Will Shanks and the Green Board

In summary, the thrilling, stomach-churning last eleven years between the release of Volume One and the imminent release of Volume Two has been absolutely fascinating for me, as fan and student of Mr. Young’s work. Few artists have demonstrated the breadth of scope and focus of vision in their work as Neil has. While the times and technologies available have driven subtle changes to the over all box set plan, the overarching vision has remained surprisingly constant. 


 NYA#1: "The Cutting Edge of Filing Cabinet Technology"

As a post-script, there is no doubt in my mind that Volume Two is coming out way too late. There was a version of Volume Two ready to go in 2014, which by one account was more compelling than the current incarnation. The number of people alive who would care about it is a dwindling fraction of what it was just 20 years ago. Many of Neil’s musical partners and associates have been the collateral damage of his single-mindedness over the years. Most recently, it is his fans that have been suffering. Was all of the churn worth it, in the end? Neil would be the first to admit that what he is doing, he has done for himself only. He has been the consummate artist in that regard. As such, has Neil really served himself and his legacy well with his execution of his Archives project?

Thanks so much for the analysis, scholarship and retrospective on NYA Lone Red Rider!  Your attention to detail and love of all things Neil is inspirational to rusties around the EARTH.

It's all been such a long, strange trip but we wouldn't buy, sell, borrow or trade anything we have to miss this experience. We'd rather just start all over again.

NYA Vol #1 - 2009
"And I've been waiting for you.
For such a long time now."
My Little Box at the Top of the Stairs: The Archives Finally Arrives!
June 2, 2009 ... it was a rustie equivalency to the opening of Arc of the Covenant... 
DON'T BE DENIED!  ... ever

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At 10/19/2020 01:10:00 AM, Blogger Fire Dragon said...

thanks for writing this. it goes some way to explain how i feel about Neil these days.I've been a huge fan since the early 70's but in the last 10 or 15 years or so, I've found myself less and less interested, which has been a bit troubling to me.
some part of it is to do with lacking some interest in recent releases for sure, but i know deep down, it's more of a frustration in how neil and his company have been operating for all this time. 20 years ago i would have killed to explore the archives 2 era of music, having spent many years of my youth listening to crappy cassette tapes of what i thought of as lost gems of neil's music. i would lie awake at night fantasizing of how this work could be presented to us, and i would say the promises have gone on since i became aware of such a possibility around the time of the original Decade release. But i think now, I'm out of time. i still have some interest, or i wouldn't be writing this, and there are good moments like the thrill of hearing Homegrown after so long, and i enjoyed the bakersfield show last year, but i feel sad, almost like grieving, that the fun has gone out of it for me. i didn't even try to buy the new box (like charlie brown with the football, i'm trusting i will get to hear the handful of New Old songs on NYA. if we can find them of course!).
i think it's just a case of too little, too late.
the strange thing is that i don't feel like this about some of my other favorites from that era (beatles,bowie etc). anyone else got these slightly odd feelings?

At 10/19/2020 07:34:00 AM, Blogger Harm said...

Great article and a good idea to have a guest writer.

Meanwhile, a second run of NYA Vol. II has been announced:

Guess Neil underestimated his own popularity.

More exciting news: NYA Vol. III is in production (so hopefully we don't have to wait another 11 years) and a re-release of Vol. I (I suppose a CD version but in a big box, like Vol. II) is contemplated.

At 10/19/2020 07:57:00 AM, Blogger tolstoigorky said...

Please, Neil, release the bats!
Great article.
I'm 49, been into Neil since I bought Decade and This Note's for You just before Ragged Glory came out and I'm starting to panic that I won't hear it all!
I think streaming has spoilt us, major obsessions of my life - Bob, Lou, Neil, Miles, Emmylou, I sometimes don't manage to take their new stuff in until months after. Twenty years ago I would have been queueing first thing on release day and spent the next weeks/months obsessively listening and digesting (with a joint and some friends, maybe).
Times change, but I still want to hear the fucking music!

At 10/19/2020 09:18:00 AM, Blogger Dionys said...

Reading Neil Young's messages with regards to physical vs. online products I do not think that he underestimated his popularity that much. He overestimated the number of early adapters to new technology, probably because online-technology seems to have beset his mind, with all the efforts that are going into NYA online. And he underestimated the fact that even the most dedicated digital addicts in many cases prefer a hands-on product over a trainload of binary code, perpetually to be copied, saved, transferred, downloaded and updated. This digital avalanche counteracts or defies the idea of a canonical life time body of work that is finished and stands on its own. My vinyl collection being an expression of my tastes thru the years stands on its own. I own it and therefore I own some of my life's soundtrack, scratches and all. I am not so sure about the CD's

Once there was a record "Tonight's the Night" and a rumour about an acetate. Then there was "Roxy", now there will be a "Rainbow" on it. And with Vol. II there will be an extended version of the original recording.

In this regard Neil Young is among the artists who make for an existence in eternal time-loops with the past, the present and the future being all the same. All of that reminds me of Greg F. and the Dead. Spooky that is and I begin to understand why it always took so long to let go and why for so many years new stuff took precedent over archival material. It meant someone's not dead yet. I want to hear a new Neil Young record.

At 10/19/2020 11:36:00 AM, Blogger das814 said...

Columbia Records, Dylan and the Miles Davis Estate have done this much better. I get that Neil is a control freak and does what he wants as he wants it. It's part of his appeal.
It's also part of my not believing a word he says about the Archives or any other project until it becomes a reality. As well, if there are no Archives of the last 10 years ( aside from live shows with POTR or Crazy Horse ), that's fine with me. Songwriting has turned to diatribe all too often.

At 10/19/2020 03:38:00 PM, Blogger no soy said...

Indeed, Dylan and Miles releases have set the bar for what's possible: engaging the fans, staying historically minded, and producing anthologies that make sense.

With Neil, I just have to roll with whatever winds up coming out. If you told me 20 years ago that an official Tonight's the Night Live would be just a blip on my radar, I'd say they are doing something wrong with the marketing and rollout.

At 10/19/2020 06:54:00 PM, Blogger Lone Red Rider said...

@FireDragon. Thanks for resonating. History is important, and I wanted mainly to summarize what happened so the record would be there for those who were maybe not watching so closely. Toward the end of this writeup, I got a bit sour with the realization that I was really writing about a fan who had to wait about 30 years to get something he (and so many more) wanted....

At 10/19/2020 06:58:00 PM, Blogger Lone Red Rider said...

@Harm. Thanks for reading. It seems that it was WB that misjudged Neil's popularity, or as someone else said, the rate that people were eschewing the physical media. Yes, a second run is coming. Very similar to the first run, same price and same contents, but with a slightly different colored box. When you line up all of the boxes during the end-days, you will know which one is not like the other :-)

At 10/19/2020 07:02:00 PM, Blogger Lone Red Rider said...

@Tolstoigorky. Looks like we started as fans about the same time. I think Old Ways was my first purchase. Agreed that streaming has changed the landscape. I still remember those Midnight's at Tower records waiting for the new Neil!

@Dionys: For a long time there was a debate raging as to whether Vol2 would contain Roxy or Rainbow.

@Purple Words: Roll with it is good sage advice to any would be Neil-head!


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