Saturday, June 04, 2016

Psychedelic Pill (2012)

For as shaggy, loose, and extemporaneous as this album often sounds, it appears Neil Young had some definite ideas about what he wanted. The music runs 87 minutes across two CDs (the first about 51 minutes, the second close to 36) and nine tracks. There are eight songs, with the title song repeated. It's about three minutes in both cases, though not first and last in sequence order, as Young has done it previously. One song, "Driftin' Back," is over 27 minutes, and two others are over 16 each. Psychedelic Pill was his first album with Crazy Horse in a decade, so in a way it's not surprising to find long songs. These guys obviously like playing with one another and they have an instinct for how to go places. It's these longs songs that are the highlights here, though it's possible they and this album are only for true believers at this late date. To be clear, I think I'm too fickle to be considered a true fan of anything—I've spent years at different points losing track of Neil Young. On the other hand, I might just be kidding myself with that. I love the rumbling, purring attack of Young with his favorite house band—it's a sound that ratchets up easily to the highest decibels. But it works at quiet levels too, and that's what they seem to be aiming for here. The longest song, "Driftin' Back," is also the first, more evidence of some kind of statement. Its rambling structure is reminiscent of Sonic Youth's "The Diamond Sea," from 1995, reduceable to three-minute verse-chorus-verse popsmithery. "I'm driftin' back," goes the chorus. "I'm driftin' back." These shards of musicality are set adrift, as theme, in a churning stream of brooding Crazy Horse jam, marked by Young's characteristic electric guitar voice, and the furry thudding sensitive accompaniments of guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro and bassist Billy Talbot. Drummer Ralph Molina keeps understated splashy time. After awhile another verse comes floating through, and the chorus, and it's a song again: "I used to dig Picasso / I used to dig Picasso / Hey now now, hey now now." It might be easier to get your arms around this one in digital, because I find myself favoring one disc over the other in the playing—the first, because it's longer and has more of the long songs. I'm not sure I have a good sense of its shape yet. It's altogether an unwieldy size, but I know I'm after those long songs. They feel exhausted and rejuvenated at once, working grossly familiar Neil Young strains yet somehow making them work fresh again. It's quieter than usual. It feels more like they are sitting on couches in a living room, with the amps turned down low, than standing on stage with fans blowing on them heroically. But there's always something heroic about Young, even when he's in a tired mood. Perhaps, giving some thought to the title, this is meant to accompany hallucinogens. I can see it working that way. But it also works fine with marijuana, or cheap wine, or probably even just good company. I play it a lot.

1 comment:

  1. Right now I find it annoying how many times I've fallen for Young's music. And at this particular moment I'm holding onto the appalling memory listening to the first side of Americana w/ a friend who was, apparently, enjoying the record. Worse for me than even Dylan's Sinatra record. But I'll eventually relent. Maybe it's this one that will do the trick. I might have heard a patch of that long one that reminds you of "The Diamond Sea" and liked it.