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Critic's pick: Neil Young, 'Le Noise'

"Some see life as a broken promise, some see life as an endless fight," Neil Young sings at the halfway point of his typically confounding new album, Le Noise.

Such sentiments are ripe through the record's eight terse songs. The tune these words are pulled from is titled, no less, Angry World. In basic Young fashion, however, it steers clear of the ditch in its mantra-like chorus ("it's an angry world, but everything's gonna be all right"). Yet as soon as you accept Angry World as an affirmation, the clouds close in again with a blunt, hardened guitar haze — specifically, a pack of hefty power chords delivered in layers of cushiony fuzz.

The make up of Le Noise is novel even by Young's standards. It's an exclusively solo recording. But it's also predominantly electric. That means the raw voltage that Young has brought to his garage-rock records with Crazy Horse — especially 1990's Ragged Glory and 1996's Broken Arrow — pervades Le Noise.

On the album-opening Walk With Me, for instance, the guitars rumble like distant thunder before coalescing under Young's half-spiritual/half-redemptive call to arms. "I feel your love," he sings over the corrosive sound. "I feel your strong love."

But Le Noise is something of a paradox. In some songs, the album reads like a hippie dream gone bust — such as the way the wayward, drug-addled protagonist of Hitchhiker finds acceptance and salvation in family. There's a mystical turn in the tune, too. It borrows the melody — not to mention a chorus — from Like an Inca, a 1982 Young relic from Trans, an album that relied heavily on programmed synthesizers. Just to make the reference even cloudier, Like an Inca was one of the few Trans tunes to forgo the electronics.

Similarly, that brings us to Love and War, one of two solo acoustic songs from Le Noise that wearily brings Young's hippie dream into the present day, proclaiming protestation of war and hope to be as common as daily prayer ("They pray to Allah and they pray to the Lord. Mostly they pray about love and war").

It should be noted that Le Noise offers Young one primary collaborator: producer Daniel Lanois. Over the past 25 years, Lanois has reinvigorated or entirely reinvented the careers of U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and many others. And in almost every case, he has behind left a trademark sound dominated by chilly atmospherics. Le Noise, however, might go down as one of the few Lanois-produced records not to be dominated by such ambience. Granted, the nicely layered guitar orchestration on Someone's Gonna Rescue You, which hits the listener in waves, is a striking Lanois touch. Mostly though, Le Noise is the sound of Young still at play, making music that is fascinating, difficult and gloriously uncompromising.

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