Neil Young and Crazy Horse, "Psychedelic Pill" (Reprise)
In his new memoir, Young describes his band Crazy Horse as a "window to the cosmic world" and "any ride on the Horse must not have a destination." And it's clear from the get-go -- a nearly 28-minute song called "Driftin' Back" -- that Young and Crazy Horse will take all the time they want on their new album.
Crazy Horse -- drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot and guitarist Frank Sampedro -- is Young's unvarnished, elemental, intuitive electric jam band, one that can lumber its way toward greatness. This is the group's first full album of new Young songs since 1996.
In nine tracks spread over 88 minutes, Young and Crazy Horse resume their collaboration like some mythical leviathan resurfacing from the deep: colossal, persistent, self-guided and oblivious to constraints on lesser creatures. This "Pill" is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and one worth taking.
What was on Young's mind as he wrote his memoir is also in the songs: personal memories, mortality, friendship, love, metaphysics and the mediocre sound of MP3s. There are bits of autobiography in "Born in Ontario" and "Twisted Road," and an audio flashback in "Driftin' Back" to a fuzz-toned Buffalo Springfield. Two shorter songs recall Young's "Cinnamon Girl" as they gaze with wistful admiration at girls lost in their dance: "Psychedelic Pill" and "She's Always Dancing."
Three songs reach deeper. "For the Love of Man" is set to a comforting ballad melody, only to ponder fate while wishing for angels to "hear the voice that calls to them." The 17-minute "Ramada Inn" portrays a couple held together by longtime love but strained by a drinking problem. And in "Walk Like a Giant," Young mourns and rages over what happened to his generation's youthful ideals.
The power of the music resides not only in the songwriting but also in the hand-hewed sound and weathered companionability of Young and Crazy Horse. They don't hurry, but their wanderings still get somewhere.
JON PARELES, NEW YORK TIMES
Calvin Harris, "18 Months" (Columbia)
Creating high-energy dance songs for female pop stars is a crowded business in 2012, one dominated by professional hit-makers such as Diplo, Max Martin and Dr. Luke. So you can understand why Scottish writer/producer Harris, who broke through last year with Rihanna's chart-topping "We Found Love," diversifies his attack on "18 Months." The third album he has released under his own name contains relatively grimy collaborations with English rappers ("Here 2 China," featuring Dizzee Rascal), a pitch-perfect piece of early-'80s slap-bass funk ("School") and "Awooga," the squelchy electro track LMFAO recently borrowed for its "Reminds Me of You."
Despite that variety, "18 Months" only deepens the impression Harris is best when linked with a lady; his skills in that area are several times more developed than they are anywhere else. In "Sweet Nothing," he frames Florence Welch's disco-gospel wail with bleeping Morse-code synths. "I Need Your Love" makes an unlikely house diva of Ellie Goulding. He doesn't need star power to shine, either: The finest song here, "Thinking About You," uses the underground bass-music vocalist Ayah Marar.
MIKAEL WOOD, LOS ANGELES TIMES