Feeling like an audio equivalent of a private sketchbook stuffed with half-thoughts and tangled ideas, Le Noise finds Neil Young introspectively dabbling in hi-tech, lo-fi folk rock. While the outcome is full of peaks and valleys, the disc spins in way that suggests Young is looking forward musically, even as his lyrics tend to lock onto the rearview so intensely that that words begin literally flowing backwards in time (thanks to some tape loops and sampling). The record’s title spotlights the importance of Young’s collaborator here, mega-producer Daniel Lanois who goes to great lengths in order to burrow Young’s ingratiating yelps and chunky powerchords within a warm swirl of fuzz and effects, transforming a stripped-down performance into a self-generating downhill snowball of crunch and melody.
A sustained chord, buzzing with distortion, chimes like a dinner bell as Young lures his listeners in with album on opener “Walk With Me,” a fetching plea that could easily be interpreted as an invitation into heretofore uncharted sonic waterssome older fans might not be expecting. Lenoise plunges Young’s solo guitar into sloppy, churning layers of distortion that magnify each scratchy descent down the fretboard into an orchestrated mass of noise, not entirely dissimilar to the way Arthur Russell tweaked his cello to sound like compounding structures of tiny galactic collisions. “Sign of Love” twists into a familiar riff structure as Young sings about mortality and hope. His spectral voice pops here and there, calling attention to the microphone and the entire process of recording a specific moment in time even as his words look favorably upon a continually foreshortened future: “When we both have silver hair and a little less time / But there still are roses on the vine.”
The long gestating, drug history road trip narrative “Hitchhiker” echoes and expands as Young recalls the specific substances (from amphetamines and valium to the open waters of California) that most altered his perception of the world, for better and worse. “Love and War” suffers from being overly repetitious as Young returns to some well-trod terrain. He laments about fathers killed in needless wars and confesses, “I sang for justice and I hit a bad chord / But I still try to sing about love and war.” The track feels like a self-conscious step outside the boundaries of the album.
Le Noise sometimes meanders into paperthin lo-fi experimentation and begins to feel like a trial run at something more perverse and otherworldly (imagine Young truly committing to the lo-fi aesthetic, recording an album entirely in a non-studio setting, taping Radio Shack microphones to an acoustic guitar and red-lining his vocal takes on a cheapo two-track tape deck!), but on the enchanting swirl of lullaby closer “Rumblin’” and electric churn of album standout “Angry World,” Young’s songwriting and fierce guitar attack feel as vital as ever. With the latter’s opening lines, Young warns against extremist viewpoints, singing, “Some see life as a broken promise / Some see life as an endless fight / They think they live in the age of darkness / They think they live in the age of light.” Even as he details all the fear mongering and suffering he sees around him, Young still gleefully, hopefully insists that “Everything is gonna be alright,” and that forward-thinking hope is what lingers and tugs at your sleeves as Le Noise spirals in and out of control.
Favorite Track: “Angry World”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.