The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
home
Monday, Nov. 24, 11:36 a.m.
Style & Culture

How I Hear It: New Neil Young album includes 16-minute cuts

There are several reasons why I am pumped for Neil Young’s upcoming album, “Psychedelic Pill,” which is scheduled for release Oct. 30.

He recorded it with Crazy Horse, the backing band he used on his key rock albums like “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and “Zuma,” albums that feature some of his best extended jams, including “Cortez the Killer,” “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.”

The name also suggests that he could get into some serious guitar soloing like he did on the early Crazy Horse albums. Not only is Young supporting that precedent, but he’s force-feeding it human growth hormone and playing until his fingers bleed. “Psychedelic Pill” features two tracks, “Walk Like a Giant” and “Ramada Inn,” that are over 16 minutes long and a third, “Driftin’ Back,” that clocks in at 27:36.

Sometimes, songs are long for the sake of being long — like R. Kelly’s horrendous “Trapped in the Closet” series — and I was worried about this album because I did not care at all for his last record of original material, “Le Noise.” In fact, my first article for this paper was a negative review of the album in which I accused one song of “failing to apex to a moving chorus, or even to anything worth listening to.”

But Young has posted a video for “Ramada Inn” on YouTube, and, thankfully, the track features Young about as good as he’s ever been. It not only restores my faith in one of my favorite performers, but it reaffirms my belief in long-form music.

Pop and rock songs can often achieve what they set out to in 3 or 4 minutes, which is just fine: One of my favorite songs of all time, The Doors’ “Break on Through (To The Other Side),” finishes less than 2 1/2 minutes after it starts. Sometimes, though, a song needs, or at least benefits from, more time.

As a tribute to the extended tracks on “Psychedelic Pill” and long songs in general, here are my five favorite songs that are at least 10 minutes long.

Jack Rose – “Red Horse” (2002, 14:46)

The most amazing thing about this song as that everything is produced by a single acoustic guitar. Like John Fahey and Leo Kottke before him, Rose’s work has been categorized as American Primitivism, which is characterized by classical or avant-garde compositions performed primarily on acoustic guitar.

If you close your eyes and relax enough, the intricate fingerpicking of Rose can start to melt into a single peaceful drone because the track is so emotionally evocative. The alternating senses of melancholy or introspection and optimism create a contrast that brings the song together in a way that is beyond words.

Saying that something can’t be described is an awful cop-out for a writer, but I’m sorry — there is only so much I can do. The principle of linguistic relativity suggests that, like how Eskimos have neither war nor a word for it, you cannot understand something there is no term for, so that’s my excuse.

Jim O’Rourke – “94 The Long Way” (1997, 13:57)

This track could also fall under the American Primitivism umbrella, at least for the first few minutes. It begins with a menacing tone conveyed solely by acoustic guitar, but becomes more optimistic with the introduction of other guitars, piano and electronic noises. “Bad Timing,” the album this song comes from, has been cited by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy as a favorite of his, so it’s not overly surprising that “94 The Long Way” and the rest of “Bad Timing” come off as Wilco’s attempt at a long jam.

Neu – “Hallogallo” (1972, 10:08)

Although this song seems to stand in one place, there is also a propulsive energy in play, thanks to the motorik beat that was actually pioneered by drummer Klaus Dinger, also of Kraftwerk, whose song “Autobahn” — which, at 22 minutes, was one of the final cuts from this list — features one of the earliest examples of the style.

The instrumentation is actually pretty sparse. Over the constant drum and guitar loop are some psychedelic sounds and effects, but perhaps it’s the treadmill nature of the song that is so fascinating — moving without going anywhere.

deadmau5 – “Strobe” (2009, 10:37)

Of all the songs on this list, “Strobe” is by far the most structured: not an easy feat for a long tune. Because of the ambient nature inherent in lengthy songs, it’s easy to get away with jamming for 15 minutes, but “Strobe” plays out like a real story. It starts out slow and with great anticipation, building into an progressive electronic dance music dream that almost makes you resent his shorter songs. “Moar Ghosts N Stuff” and “Hi Friend” are excellent tracks, but when I’m listening to “Strobe,” I wish all of his songs took a similar approach.

The Doors – “When The Music’s Over” (1967, 11:00)

It’s probably because of all their talk of lizard kings and opening the doors of perception, but there’s a mystical and alluring quality to The Doors that is inescapable, especially in the longer songs of their early albums. The Doors were one of those rare bands where every member was one of the world’s best at his job.

Morrison was a charismatic frontman, elite lyricist and confident singer, while Robby Krieger played some of the best guitar solos of the psychedelic era; Ray Manzarek’s keyboards were the driving force behind most songs and drummer John Densmore held it all together.

Those elements come together on “When The Music’s Over” and capture the improvisational and experimental essence of their live shows while remaining structured and on course. The song has the freedom of a Quicksilver Messenger Service jam and the order of a Moby Grape psych-pop ditty.