365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 26

Neil Young – After The Gold Rush

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In the boundaried ecosystem that is my music collection, this one gets filed as “the other Neil Young masterpiece.” Which is the same distinction afforded “Harvest,” making these two releases sort of the Cain and Abel of Young’s Old Testament.

It’s tempting to say that Harvest distinguishes itself within this duality on the strength of its songwriting, whereas After The Gold Rush rises above on sonic merits, but that’s too simplistic to really capture the respective achievements these albums ascend to.

Admittedly, other than Southern Man, there is no one song on After The Gold Rush that can really go toe-to-toe with the best tracks on Harvest, but it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges paradigm, to play that kind of game, because the After the Gold Rush tracks just aren’t the same kind of creations.

It’s sort of like trying to compare Van Gosh and Pollock. There is tremendous energy in the works of both—rich colors, striking forms, a certain angry garishness balanced against an indescribable sentimentality, but whereas in Van Gogh the stories are on the surface, the characters clearly defined, the elements simple and straightforward, the narratives of Pollock are submerged, open to interpretation, fractured, operating by implication, and depending on engagement from the viewer to detangle the thick webs of pastiche and collage.

The inscrutability of verses like these …

Blind man running through the light of the night
With an answer in his hand
Come on down to the river of sight
And you can really understand

-and-

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones

-and-

When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over

… leave one blurrily reeling in the wake of an elegy for something lost we didn’t know we had, while simultaneously celebrating the achievement of something holy we didn’t know we were pursuing.

The album’s sonics support this daggered ambiguity perfectly, offering a consistently roiling tension between the sweet and the bitter. We’ve grown so familiar with this album over time, that it’s become easy to forget just how genuinely weird this record really is.


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