Talking about Noise
It is appropriate that Neil Young’s latest album (released on September 28) is called Le Noise. It might as well have been called Le Sound. When producer Daniel Lanois (who’s worked with names such as Bob Dylan and U2) and Young stepped into the studio to make the record, both men wanted to create a “new sound”. So Lanois handed over an electro-acoustic guitar to Young and hooked up the bass strings to one amplifier and the treble ones to another. As Lanois describes it, the electro-acoustic guitar had it all: bass, electronic and acoustic sounds. And, if you listen to it—I caught the album in its entirety as a pre-launch webstream—you can see how Young is obviously enjoying it.
Le Noise is a raw Young album where he plays without a band and without studio tweaks or dubs. And it is a work of genius. But then that’s what I’ve grown to expect of Young ever since I first heard him on an early album from Buffalo Springfield, Young’s first band. Since then the prolific and greatly influential musician has come a long way—he turns 65 in November and Le Noise is, I think, his 47th album (that is, if you consider all his projects—Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Stills-Young Band and then his huge body of solo work).
For Le Noise, Young wrote eight brand new songs, each one of them a gem. The sound is unique but typical of Young’s customised genre of music—his style spectrum has two ends: a rock-folk-country amalgam at one end and a deliciously grungy, noisy, electric compound at the other. I like the grungy, noisy, electric stuff more, although mellower albums, such as Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969), never fail to do it for me either. But I’m glad to report that Le Noise is in that zone, you know, the grungy, noisy, electric end of Young’s oeuvre. But then the name of the album must’ve given that away.
It’s not just the new album from Young that is exciting. There’s his parallel archives project that goes on as a work in progress. For years Young had been promising to dig into his prodigious archives and compile albums. Finally, in late 2009 the first instalment, Archives Vol. 1, was released—a huge box set of more than 10 CDs and DVD discs, which cover the early years of his career. It’s fascinating stuff. Now, we’re waiting for more in the series from one of rock’s most influential musicians.
While on the subject of noise, here’s a confession. I have recently become a fan of Boris. But before I elaborate on that, here’s a disclaimer. I’m no metal-head but there are times when genres like death metal or doom rock with their deep low-frequency drone and sock-in-the-gut bass lines are the only things that work. Last week was like that, a week when nothing seemed to go right. So I reached out for the usual cures—some of the bands that I have been enjoying of late (you know, indie, singer-songwriter-driven angst-oozing stuff). None of that worked. Then I stumbled across Boris.
Boris isn’t anyone. It’s the name of a band; a Japanese band. Make that a Japanese band with a cult following. Although Boris are frequently classified as a sludge or doom rock band, they really defy classification. The album I heard first was called Absolutego-Special Low Frequency. It has two tracks and the first, Absolutego, is over 65 minutes long and is, for most of that time, a deep low-tuned visceral guitar drone that gradually grows on you and seems to keep filling up your head and chest and stomach till you actually begin enjoying it.
I’ve heard that Boris are a hit with those who like stoner rock but let me assure you that you won’t need anything other than their music to get high. But you need to be careful. I was listening to Absolutego on earphones and the low frequencies got a bit uncomfortable at certain volumes. I then learnt that at Boris gigs, volunteers hand out earplugs to deaden some of the sound that is blasted at skull exploding volumes.
Boris are a trio (a trio with each member having a single name as in Atsuo (lead vocals and drums), Wata (electric guitar) and Takeshi (vocals and bass guitar). They make very, very loud music and have a deep liking for tuned-down low frequency sound. And it isn’t as uncomfortable as it may sound. I started with the wrong album. Absolutego is for seasoned Boris listeners. I should have started with the highly accessible Pink (2005), which is like a crossover album that straddles some mainstream trends and yet is not quite so and could be a good beginner’s guide to Boris. It has a bit less experimentation but is ambitious (as are all Boris albums). Boris are uncompromising and adventurous, two traits of bands that usually make good music, and they have released many albums since 1996 when they put out Absolutego. They also put out different versions of the same album and I’ve heard that their live shows are spectacular (with lots of smoke and stuff). I’d recommend immersing yourself in their sound (or noise) at least once. You may not regret it.