Neil Young

Neil Young's Pono player puts quality first

Rock musician Neil Young introduces his high-quality digital audio player Pono at the Austin Convention Center SXSW keynote on Tuesday afternoon. Young has been working on Pono for more than 2 years and is currently using Kickstarter to fund the project. 
Rock musician Neil Young introduces his high-quality digital audio player Pono at the Austin Convention Center SXSW keynote on Tuesday afternoon. Young has been working on Pono for more than 2 years and is currently using Kickstarter to fund the project. 

To a packed house at the Austin Convention Center’s Ballroom D, iconic singer-songwriter and rock legend Neil Young fleshed out the details of his quality-focused music player called Pono. 

Young started his presentation with an explanation as to why he is doing what he is doing. He commented on the collapse of different areas in the music business because of MP3 files.

“This old culture started to go away, and it was because of the MP3, and the cheapening of the quality to a point where it was practically unrecognizable,” Young said. He intends to reverse the depreciation in music quality with Pono. 

Meaning “righteous” in Hawaiian, the Pono player is capable of playing high-quality music files that far surpass the potential quality of MP3 files. Young, an artist who grew up in the age of vinyl records — when quality reigned king, he said — impressed upon the audience the importance of music files’ quality. 

“The human body is unbelievable,” Young said. “It’s so sensitive. When you give it something, it loves it. When it sees great art, it feels good.”

In an era ruled by the ubiquity of lower-quality MP3 files, Young implored the audience to consider quality. He said the world is content with listening to music that is 5% of the quality it could potentially be, and that it shouldn’t be.

“People [are] buying wallpaper — they [are] buying background sounds. They [are] buying Xeroxes of the Mona Lisa,” Young said, commenting on the instant, track-by-track download culture that exists today. 

Young played a video for the audience made up of testimonials from famous musicians, all of whom spoke towards the quality of Pono’s sound. Elton John, Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen, Marcus Mumford and Tom Petty all spoke out in favor of Young’s project with glowing reviews about the sound quality. 

Pono has a Kickstarter page and has quickly raised over 50 percent of its monetary goal as of  March 11. The Kickstarter is open until April 15. When asked about the triangular prism design of the player, Young said it helps people operate it while it’s on a flat surface. 

“It can sit on your desk and sound like God,” he said. 

Quarter Notes

Artist name: Andrew Bird
Album title: Hands of Glory

Record label: Mom+Pop Music
Songs to download: “Three White Horses,” “If I needed You”

The last four years have been extremely productive for Chicago-based singer/songwriter/violinist/whistling extraordinaire Andrew Bird. After releasing an album in both 2009 and 2010, Bird signed with the indie label Mom+Pop Music, composed the score to the film “Norman,” released his sixth studio album, Break It Yourself, and screened the concert documentary “Andrew Bird: Fever Year” at dozens of film festivals around the world.

With the release of Hands of Glory, Bird continues his torrid pace. The 8-track album, which was recorded in his barn-turned-studio just outside of Chicago, serves as a companion piece to Break It Yourself, containing alternate takes of album cuts alongside several cover songs and one new original.

As a whole, the album is darker and folksier than previous Bird releases. Recorded live with all-acoustic instrumentation around a single microphone, the band displays both precision and vibrancy, showcasing pitch-perfect harmonies, virtuosic violin playing and notably little of Bird’s trademark whistling.

“Three White Horses” opens the set, cantering in at an ominous pace. “Don’t dismiss it like it’s easy / Tell me what’s so easy about coming to say goodbye,” Bird exhorts in his crystalline tenor.

The reverb-soaked cadence of “When That Helicopter Comes” follows, introducing a minor-key apocalyptic urban ballad that picks up the tempo as well as the intensity. An insidious guitar line plays patiently beneath what could be either Bird’s screeching violin or the howling ghosts of rural east Illinois.

The mood lifts incrementally with “Spirograph” and “Railroad Bill,” the latter a foot-tapping train-hop shuffle complete with a steam-whistle violin fill. “Wheeeeeeew!” cries one of the musicians in exuberance at the end of the take, followed by rounds of infectious laughter.

The most obvious highlight of the uniformly strong album occurs two tracks later with an imaginative rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” Featuring deep, rich harmonies cast over a slow-rocking country tempo, the song pays poignant homage to the legendary Texas troubadour without retreading the same path as the dozens of others who have covered the song.

A heartfelt acoustic version of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and the 9-minute, one-violin loop-pedal reprise “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” close out this concise, uplifting record. For fans of Andrew Bird, it will be a welcome addition to their libraries; for the uninitiated, it just might have enough stripped-down charm to win some new converts.

With the release of Hands of Glory, Bird continues his torrid pace. The 8-track album, which was recorded in his barn-turned-studio just outside of Chicago, serves as a companion piece to Break It Yourself, containing alternate takes of album cuts alongside several cover songs and one new original.

As a whole, the album is darker and folksier than previous Bird releases. Recorded live with all-acoustic instrumentation around a single microphone, the band displays both precision and vibrancy, showcasing pitch-perfect harmonies, virtuosic violin playing and notably little of Bird’s trademark whistling.

“Three White Horses” opens the set, cantering in at an ominous pace. “Don’t dismiss it like it’s easy / Tell me what’s so easy about coming to say goodbye,” Bird exhorts in his crystalline tenor.

The reverb-soaked cadence of “When That Helicopter Comes” follows, introducing a minor-key apocalyptic urban ballad that picks up the tempo as well as the intensity. An insidious guitar line plays patiently beneath what could be either Bird’s screeching violin or the howling ghosts of rural east Illinois.

The mood lifts incrementally with “Spirograph” and “Railroad Bill,” the latter a foot-tapping train-hop shuffle complete with a steam-whistle violin fill. “Wheeeeeeew!” cries one of the musicians in exuberance at the end of the take, followed by rounds of infectious laughter.

The most obvious highlight of the uniformly strong album occurs two tracks later with an imaginative rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” Featuring deep, rich harmonies cast over a slow-rocking country tempo, the song pays poignant homage to the legendary Texas troubadour without retreading the same path as the dozens of others who have covered the song.

A heartfelt acoustic version of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and the 9-minute, one-violin loop-pedal reprise “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” close out this concise, uplifting record. For fans of Andrew Bird, it will be a welcome addition to their libraries; for the uninitiated, it just might have enough stripped-down charm to win some new converts.

Artist name: Neil Young
Album title: Psychedelic Pill

Record label: Reprise Records
Songs to download: “Ramada Inn,” “Walk Like a Giant”

Fresh off their headlining performance at ACL Fest, Neil and the gang unleash their second album of the year, following the dismally received Americana.. Never one to make concessions, Young and company open with the 27-minute garage jam “Driftin’ Back.” The “Ragged Glory” energy is somehow sustained through the album’s double-disc, 87-minute run time.

Artist name: Mike and the Moonpies
Album title: The Hard Way

Record label: Self-released
Songs to download: “Sunday,” “Things Can Only Get Better” 

The local honky-tonk favorites tear through a set of hard-core country that has made their successive residencies at the Hole in the Wall and the White Horse one of Austin’s most popular regular gigs. Standout tracks include lead single “Sunday” and the Harry Nilsson-tinged closer “Things Can Only Get Better”.

Artist name: Thrice
Album title: Anthology

Record label: Staple Records
Songs to download: “Promises,” “Anthology”

This compilation by the prolific southern California post-hardcore quartet collects 24 songs recorded live during the band’s recent farewell tour in May and June. The album serves as a comprehensive overview of the band’s catalog, containing songs from its 2000 debut Identity Crisis all the way to its most recent studio release Major/Minor.

Hard to believe, but Austin City Limits Music Festival turns 11 this weekend. Over the years, we’ve seen some ups and downs — the dust bowl, the mud bowl, the propane tank fire, Ben Kweller’s mysterious bloody nose — but the good times have easily outweighed the bad.

This year’s ACL lineup, featuring The Black Keys, Jack White, Neil Young and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is arguably the best in a few years. A caravan of additional world-class musical acts round out the weekend-long party. Here are the top 10 acts you don’t want to miss.

Friday
Delta Spirit, AMD stage, 2:15 p.m. — One of the top buzz bands over the last few years, San Diego quintet Delta Spirit expanded their sound on their self-titled third album. Catch some of their kind-of-country, kind-of-beachy, kind-of-Brooklyn-y sound.

Alabama Shakes, Barton Springs Stage, 5:30 p.m. — Grab a turkey leg and maybe a tallboy (if you’re willing to wait) and head over to the Barton Springs stage to catch one of the busiest and most talked about bands of 2012. The Athens, Ala. southern soul revivalists released their debut album Boys & Girls in April to widespread acclaim. Since then, they’ve been touring to sold-out concert halls across the globe.

Soul Rebels Brass Band, Zilker Stage, 6 p.m. – It’s always frustrating when two bands you want to see are booked for the same time slot; fortunately the Zilker stage is just a stone’s throw away from the Barton Springs stage. After catching the Alabama Shakes, head over to see New Orleans’ Soul Rebels Brass Band. Fusing elements of funk, jazz, soul, hip-hop and drumline, the band is a classic example of why the Big Easy remains one of the world’s greatest music cities.

Saturday
Metric, AMD Stage, 4 p.m. – Few bands have been more successful without the benefit of a label than Brooklyn-based indie-pop four piece Metric. “Help, I’m Alive” is one of the better indie-pop singles to come along in the last half-decade. It definitely has that radio-ready sound, but it also has a sinister edge and blow-the-speakers production reminiscent of MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular.

The Roots, Bud Light Stage, 6 p.m. — Hip-hop’s greatest live band returns to the ACL stage on break from their primary gig as the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” The best band on television (apologies to Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band) has also been one of the most prolific, releasing fourteen studio albums since 1993.

Jack White, AMD Stage, 8 p.m. — What do you do when you have two can’t-miss shows happening at the same time on different stages? Good question. It’s bad enough that the folks at C3 Presents put Delta Spirit and The War on Drugs on at the same time, but double-billing Jack White and Neil Young is just downright criminal. Here is one of the greatest artists of our generation in the prime of his career, fresh on the heels of an excellent solo debut.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Bud Light Stage, 8 p.m. — Neil’s the man. Seriously, one of the greatest musicians ever. Definitely the greatest Canadian ever. Expect him and his legendary garage band Crazy Horse to blow the roof off of the Bud Light stage Saturday night.

Sunday
Gary Clark Jr. AMD Stage, 2:15 p.m. — In many ways, this may be the one show not to miss this weekend at ACL. Gary’s legend has simmered around Austin over the last 10 years, and later this month the supremely talented guitarist and soul singer’s major-label debut Blak and Blu hits shelves nationwide. The buzz is already palpable, and Gary certainly has the chops to match the ever-mounting hype. This could be one of the very last chances to say you “saw him when ...”

Iggy & the Stooges Bud Light Stage 6:15 p.m. — Old and haggard as they might appear, it’s just not every day that you get a chance to see a band as legendary as the Stooges. Iggy and company were the true progenitors of punk rock, laying out a blueprint for the sound with Raw Power in the early ‘70s. Forty years later, they’re still as wild and unpredictable as when they first started.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers Bud Light Stage, 8:15 p.m. — One of the most convulsion-inducing and widely-appealing bands of our time, the Red Hot Chili Peppers blasted onto the national scene in the early ‘90s and never let go. Over the years they’ve experimented and developed their sound but never lost the original fan base that made them punk-funk heroes to begin with.

Printed on Friday, October 12, 2012 as: Top 10 acts to watch at weekend festival

Photo courtesy of Neil Young.

Austin City Limits-headliner Neil Young dropped his newest album, and this time he brought some old friends with him. “Americana” features longtime supporting cast Crazy Horse, who played on such notable albums as “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” “After the Gold Rush” and “Zuma.” This is the first time Neil Young has collaborated with Crazy Horse since they released “Greendale” in 2003, and the group has not missed a step. Neil Young may be 66-years-old, but his voice and his guitar playing have not aged a bit.

Americana is a gritty folk-rock album comprised of traditional American folk songs. Many of the songs even frequented our childhood campfires, such as “Clementine” and “This Land is Your Land,” but these aren’t your basic kindergarten renditions. Young reinterprets classic American tunes with fresh arrangements. Heavy drums, abrasive distortion and a heart wrenching chorus capture the sadness of a grieving lover in “Clementine,” and the grinding guitar in “Jesus’ Chariot” makes the gospel hymn sound more like a cry of desperate anger than a prayer of hope; his modern interpretations revive these old lyrics and place them in a contemporary light.

Young’s genuine delivery breaths life into these century old songs making them both entertaining and relatable. “High Flyin’ Bird” sings of a man who longs for the freedom of birds in the sky, and “Wayfarin’ Stranger” is an engaging acoustic number that tells of a lonely spirit wandering earth in hopes of finding his way home. Universal themes and expertly designed rock arrangements blend well on “Americana” and keep the listener involved.

The music is spot-on as well. Songs like “Oh Susannha” and “Tom Dula” exhibit, with great success, the groups ability to jam together, and funky riffs and catchy melodies carry these tunes. These are good rock songs, but they don’t really show the listener anything new from Young. The album drags a bit during “Travel On” and an almost six minute version of “This Land is Your Land” simply because they get a bit too repetitive. The songs start strong, but after five minutes, the sparse lyrics and simple chords begin to grow tiresome.

The record ends satirically with a version of “God Save The Queen” which seamlessly interweaves “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the end, wryly commenting on our European origins. As made evident by the album cover, Neil Young will always believe the American Indians to be the true Americans.

Overall, “Americana” is a solid album with 11 tracks. There is nothing break-through on the release, but Neil Young and Crazy Horse rock as hard as they did in 1975, and the lyrics are as pertinent and interesting today as they were in the mid-20th century.

Carter Tanton holds a unique place within music, bridging the gap between sample based acts like J Dilla and singer songwriters like Neil Young.

Photo Credit: Mary Kang | Daily Texan Staff

Carter Tanton has managed to carve out a unique niche for himself within music. Despite giving off the appearance of a folk, singer-songwriter acoustic type, his music runs the genre gamut. His debut album, Freeclouds, has the makeup of an acoustic album with all sorts of other elements running through it: Rich, developed sample patterns are woven throughout his calming guitars with his soft, yet powerful, voice layered atop it. Electronic influences also run deeply through his music.

His live shows represent a far more experimental effort of dissonant, complex riffs, coupled with his voice that he uses as more of an instrument than a mechanism for story telling. His wide range of sounds makes sense given his wide musical influences which range from the slightly more expected Neil Young and Mojave 3 all the way to J Dilla and Baths. The Daily Texan caught up with Tanton for his show last week at Emo’s to talk about his new name and playing in New York subways.

The Daily Texan: What’s the difference between the Carter Tanton project and your old project, Tulsa?
Carter Tanton: If Tulsa had kept going, it would have sounded like something much more similar to this. Much more kind of layered sounds. We constantly get compared to My Morning Jacket and, you know, for a good reason. We kind of sound like My Morning Jacket. My new stuff is kind of embracing on one hand the more singer-songwriter stuff but also layered production, so I guess that’s the difference.

DT: Why did you choose to ditch the Tulsa name?
CT: Symbolically, it was like a fresh start. It’s kind of a natural continuation of Tulsa. For the last two years of Tulsa, it was essentially a solo project. I just wanted to have a clean break from it and become inspired, and sometimes, a name does that.

DT: I read that you would play in the subways of New York?
CT: Yeah, I did that for like six months.

DT: To practice?
CT: Kind of to practice, to keep my voice strong. It sounds really good in the subways. That’s where I kind of first got into reverb and like the sound of reverb on my voice. It was mostly to practice because for some reason, it felt more private to play in the subways than in my apartment and have roommates and neighbors hear me because the walls are so thin and everything is compact.

DT: You would play at strange hours of the night to avoid people?
CT: Yeah, I’d play at midnight to three usually, to avoid rush hour. In rush hour, people are going to push around and nobody’s gonna listen. When the train comes, you have to avoid playing for at least two minutes. It makes a lot of noise coming in, and then, you have to wait for it to leave, and it makes a lot of noise coming out. At night, fewer trains come, so you can play more. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have made a lot more money playing during the day just because I feel like at night time, people could listen more.

DT: Playing in the subways is a unique experience for an artist not from a place like New York or Boston. How has that affected you musically?
CT: I learned a lot of covering songs, and it kind of got me on this kick of reinterpreting songs that I love. Cat Power’s cover record influenced me in that sense. She’ll cover her favorite songs, and really loosely interpret that song and make it her own right from the start. I’m not too interested in doing an authentic cover of the song. I learned a lot of covers in the subways because I wasn’t always comfortable playing my lyrics. I think I rely on covers a lot more than most bands.

Printed on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 as: Genre-blending musician starts fresh with latest album