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Neil Young’s new double-CD Psychedelic Pill starts off with the half--hour long song Driftin’ Back.


2 out of 4 stars

Psychedelic Pill
Neil Young with Crazy Horse

In an interview regarding his new memoir Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young was asked about his father, the journalist and legitimate author Scott Young. "He told me if you start writing, you'd be surprised what comes out. He said, 'Even if you can't think of anything to write, go sit where you write.'"

Young took his father's advice to heart much too literally; his amateurish digression of an autobiography reveals him as someone not fit carry his dad's Underwood. The practice of writing itself seems to astonish Young thoroughly – the prolific use of exclamation points paint him as naively enthusiastic for his own work: "This is easy!"

And now his new album with his slow-moving grunge-garage band Crazy Horse follows in the same editor-free path. If it were a book it might come with a press blurb, something along the lines of this:

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"Boldly under thought, epic in minutes, refreshingly indulgent and daringly ungoverned, Psychedelic Pill is an electric, semi-lucid amble – medicine for an undiagnosed disease."

Or: "Young has undone himself!" And so: "You must listen to this album if you must!"

Psychedelic Pill's introduction is Driftin' Back, a hazy, hypnotic, half-hour-long preface that attempts to explain the rest of the double-CD journey which follows. It begins with a scene-setting acoustic-guitar shape seemingly leftover from his previous album of original material, the Daniel Lanois collaboration (and relative masterpiece) Le Noise from 2010. The author sings: "Dreaming about the way things sound now, write about them in my book … to help you feel this feeling, let you ride along / dreaming about the way you feel now, when you hear my song."

The track then segues into familiar Crazy Horse trudge, with the periodic harmonic refrain of "I'm driftin' back" alternating with tarnished silver electric leads and softly sung screeds about contemporary sound marketing ("Don't want my MP3s") and kids-today grooming habits ("Gonna get a hip-hop haircut").

The reunited Young and Crazy Horse this summer released Americana, a, compelling, open-minded electric reinvention of traditional folk songs. Here, however, with their predictable grooves, the backing trio of Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Poncho Sampedro do not inspire their plaid-wearing leader. At best they are facilitators; at worst, enablers. What's missing is either someone (such as Lanois) to prod Young to better material, or a new band with which to work (such as Pearl Jam, used by Young for 1995's Mirror Ball).

The title track clocks in at a manageable 3:28. It's a mid-tempo rocker about a girl "looking for a good time." The song itself fails to find joy, and is noticeable only for its wind-tunnel sonics.

The superior Ramada Inn concerns an older couple with an eventless future, "holding on to what we've done." Born in Ontario, a goofy autobiographic declaration of birthplace, is done in such a hayseed lope that it seems to poke fun at Young's rural upbringing. For theLove of Man is a hymn of sorts – a question as to why a child is "born to live, but not like you or I," from the father of a son with cerebral palsy.

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The 16-minute-plus Walk Like a Giant walks decidedly upright, with a riff and scope that recalls the ragged glory of Cowgirl in the Sand or Hey Hey, My My. It's a hippie-dream lament, for the visionaries of the 1960s and perhaps Young's own return to the form that produced a stunning amount of classic-rock staples.

Walk Like a Giant ends in a flourish of big-footed stomps of drums and feedback. You imagine Young bowing, eyes-closed, in front of flashbulbs and an applauding crowd. Then he opens his eyes to reality; he has been awakened by the lawnmower outside and the fizzled filament of the 40-watt in his bedside lamp. Time for a new light bulb. Time for an idea.



Haunted Man

Bat For Lashes

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Three stars

"This is an album of healing, of being glad to be alive and letting go of ghosts," writes the intriguing Natasha Khan, in the notes to her third album. Most everyone approves of those three things, and so we have a nice premise to this artfully expressive disc from a performer who sings in chilled exclamations. (Many of us approve of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, and I suspect this electronic songstress does as well.) Set within stark, synthetic soundscapes, the songs of England's Khan's strive for a visual effect. Though she succeeds with that mostly, the memorable tracks (the Gotye-loving All Your Gold and the pale-blue piano melodrama Laura) win more on catchiness and delivery, respectively, than style. Brad Wheeler


Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

Kendrick Lamar

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Three and a half stars

Before Kendrick Lamar, having talent wasn't enough to fend off the industry pressure to be trite. But those who come after this California rookie won't be able to cut it with outsized drug boasts and unearned self-importance. Lamar puts his uniquely emotionally-conflicted signature on growing up in Compton – no easy feat when even Gwyneth Paltrow memorizes N.W.A. – without flinching from the moral challenge, or pretending to be above the pleasures. There are guest verses from the likes of Drake and Dr. Dre, but they're just cameos in Lamar's self-described "short film." It's a hazy, sharp coming-of-age tale where the lead actor plays a dozen parts, from teenager joyriding with "a quarter tank of gas, one pistol, an orange soda" to reluctant moralist. And at the centre, an MC who embodies when keeping it real goes really right. Dave Morris




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Three and a half stars

Dan Snaith, who previously recorded under the names Manitoba and Caribou, has always had a flair for manipulating sound, so it shouldn't surprise that his DJ effort, Daphni, is as much about textures as it is beats. For Jiaolong, Snaith works with samples snatched from vintage Afropop, though you'd never know it from the album's sound, which is treated and processed almost to the point of abstraction. But Snaith treats those effects as a form of articulation, at times amplifying a rhythm's impact while at others rendering it almost subliminal, and that allows tracks such as the burbling, hypnotic Ye Ye to pull maximal groove from minimal components. J.D. Considine


So Many Days

Julie Doiron

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Three stars

She sings vulnerability. On the third of three solo records produced by Eric White (her former bandmate in the Moncton-based indie-rock troupe Eric's Trip), Julie Doiron is sometimes in love and sometimes deeply lonely, but always seemingly at risk. Plagued by bouts of malaise and self-doubt, her music is grungy here and finger-picked there, and she sings in the exposed, airy lilt of a Feist or Lissie. While Homeless is a creepy bass-and-voice suicide note, Our Love sweetly jangles. Is she okay? Somebody hug her, or give her a soft bed. In the likable jaunt of By the Lake, she finds serenity, as you might, too. The water sings to her, the grass sings to her, the trees do the same. One wonders how all of this is going to turn out. B.W.

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