Archive | January, 2017

Neil Young ‘Peace Trail’ – Review

28 Jan

Neil young’s recent work has largely been directed at people who think they have the veteran singer-songwriter pinned down. We can apply a multitude of superlatives to his recent discography, all suggestive of his unpredictable nature; he’s given us his longest and freakiest jams (2012’s ‘Psychedelic Pill’), his sweetest love songs (2013’s ‘Storytone’), his most experimental guitar work (2010’s ‘La Noise), his rawest recordings (‘A Letter Home’) and his most unexpected covers (‘Americana’, a collection of strange, largely forgotten folk songs). Of course, all this was at the expense of consistency – the only common link among the albums being Neil’s resolute outlook, instinctual guitar shredding and distinctive voice.

He continues in that inconsistent vein on ‘Peace Trail’, possibly the least substantive Young record since his late 80s fallow years. His second release of 2016 after the semi-live protest album ‘Earth’, ‘Peace Trail’ is every bit as scatterbrained and off the wall as we’ve come to expect modern Neil Young records to be. But it’s also much less memorable than prior albums, and judging by the lacksidasical melodies and half cooked arrangements, that might have been the point. For this record he assembled the duo of Jim Keltner and Paul Bushnell To help out; and this small band are decidedly not Crazy horse, Promise of the Real, the Stray Gaters or CSNY. They are a seasoned yet ramshackle duo who clearly have no interest in pre-learning arrangements or mastering their parts (and Young surely had no interest in teaching them). To put it nicely, this makes for one of the loosest albums I’ve heard in a long long time. In the right circumstances and with the right songs this could have made for a classic album, here it just makes for a half baked one.

Then again you never go to Neil Young for a polished pop sound. These tracks were recorded mostly live, probably very shortly after they were written, and that lends them a certain directness. His singing is passionate and meaningful, his lyrics are vitriolic and full of clear intent. The throaty wail of Old Black rips in to the title track and you could instantly be listening to a Neil Young song from forty years ago (you kind of wish some of this unbridled passion would find its way in to a few more of these laid back sideways songs). When it works, it works and by now Neil has a good nose for what does and doesn’t. But he does love shaking things up and playing with the tension between familiar and new. At times he gets the balance spot on (‘Peace Trail’), at other times he surely goes too far, as on ‘My New Robot’. By his nature Young is unpredictable but even the more knowing Neil Young fans, familiar with his vocoder experiments of the early 80s, will surely be surprised by the presence of auto tune vocals and references to that we find on this song. But of course there is subtle humour at work here, and on a couple of the other songs, that cuts through some of the occasionally tiresome political rhetoric. Young’s politics are admirable and right on but he’s surely too relaxed to make any meaningfully broad impact with these songs.

‘Peace Trail’ is unique (weird) enough to justify its release but Neil Young albums appear so frequently these days that they never feel like events or comebacks. This one in particular, hot on the heels of the well publicised ‘Earth’, feels particularly insubstantial and unimportant. Which is a shame because it tries to speak to important causes that deserve attention. As glorious as it is to have one of the greatest songwriters in such a prolific mood, it might be worth sitting on his next project for a bit longer. His message is apt, but his delivery is rushed and – dare I say – lazy.



Jeff Rosenstock ‘Worry’ – Review

8 Jan

‘Worry’ is technically the third solo album from Punk guru Jeff Rosenstock, but numbers and names are somewhat misleading when it comes to this particularly independent artist. Rosenstock has been giving out albums for free, under different guises, for two decades now and pioneered a ‘pay what you want’ style system long before Radiohead made headlines with something similar. ‘Worry’ is Rosenstock’s most high profile release to date and it’s rightfully been called his magnum opus. The first side of this ambitious record finds him indulging more melodic sensibilities in what are his most luscious songs to date. On the second side he blasts through an extended medley that incorporates an eclectic variety of punk sub-genres like ska, pop and hardcore (imagine a more frantic and intense version of Green Day’s ‘Jesus of Suburbia’). It adds up to something far more meaningful than its short running time would suggest possible. ‘Worry’ is similar in scope and thematic ambition to The 1975’s recent ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ But has no interest in seeking a similar scale audience.

On the album opener we hear him scathe ‘Laura said to me “this decade’s gonna be fucked, friends will disappear after they fall in love and get married”‘. That couplet serves as a neat introduction to the album’s major theme. Rosenstock got married during the writing process and the album is an expression of love winning in the face of anxiety and despite all the odds. But this end goal is only reached after a whole lot of ranting, raging and soul searching. Most of the songs deal with small injustices, tragedies and dilemmas with love and joyous music always providing the remedy.

Rosenstock may exude the virtues of love but you don’t want to get in his way. He takes down festival culture on ‘Festival song’ (‘This is not a movement, it’s just careful entertainment for an easy demographic in our sweatshop denim jackets’), gentrification (‘the landlord wanted to cash in on the boom’, ‘they’re pushing you out in the name of progress, selling your memories to the tourists’), Internet warriors (‘no one will listen up until you become a hashtag or meme’) and even casual internet streamers (‘these are Amazon days, we are the binge watching age!’). All of which furthers Rosenstock’s other principal argument – the world is going to hell in a hand basket. He delivers these sentiments with such scorn and conviction that you can’t help but end up agreeing with him. But make no mistake – ‘Worry’ is not just a polemic and Rosenstock’s tone is far from didactic. The end of the world has rarely sounded this much fun. As long as we have Rosenstock as our tour guide, it’s at least going to be an interesting ride.

Punk rock has been largely ignored on the end of year lists currently doing the rounds, yet the genre has been responsible for some of the finest albums of 2016. Bands like Joyce Manor, Modern Baseball, Real Friends, Pup and Tocuhe Amore have thrilled us with their enthusiasm, humour and hooks – they deserve more credit than they get. Rosenstock, as he has been for many years, serves as the genre’s most verbose and eloquent apologist. ‘We’re bouncing up and down trying to make the floor shake, stop sneering at our joy like its a careless mistake’ he blasts at the chin strokers. Whilst ‘Worry’ includes nods to cosier forms of music (Rosenstock’s no stranger to acoustic guitars and warm melodies) he always returns back unashamedly to his punk rock roots, defending the genre while making one of the best cases for it as a living, breathing, functioning scene and art form in 2016 and beyond. ‘Worry’ is full of wit, heart and scorn – everything you really want from a punk.