Monday, January 26, 2015

Miocene Mammal Monday: Epicyon

The Borophaginae are an extinct group of canids that were native North America from 33.6 to 2.5 million years ago. Commonly referred to as "bone crushing dogs" due to their large hyena-like teeth and powerful jaws, Borophagines were some of the most efficient predators of the Miocene. Although their bodies tended to look wolf-like, some species, such as Epicyon, had jaws that were so massive their skulls more closely resembled a modern lion.

(aka "more than a dog") lived from 20.6 to 5.3 million years ago. Three species have been described (Epicyon aelutodontoides, Epicyon haydeni, Epicyon saevus), the largest of which was over 5 feet long and weighed an estimated 378 pounds.

The fossil record shows us that Epicyon had a wide geographical distribution (Alberta, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Texas, Florida) and lived alongside many other canid species.

Aside from their unique dentition, Epicyon, like all Borophagines, can be distinguished from modern canids on the basis of their hindfoot morphology. Whereas modern canids have four toes per foot, Borophagines have five toes on each of their hind feet.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Neil Young - After the Goldrush (1970)

Release date: September 19, 1970
Producers: Neil Young, David Briggs, Kendall Pacios
Singles: Only Love Can Break Your Heart, When You Dance I Can Really Love

Track listing:
Tell Me Why, After the Goldrush, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Southern Man, Till the Morning Comes, Oh Lonesome Me, Don't Let It Bring You Down, Birds, When You Dance I Can Really Love, I Believe in You, Cripple Creek Ferry

Neil Young (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica, vibes), Danny Whitten (guitar, vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, piano, vocals), Jack Nitzsche (piano), Billy Talbot (bass), Greg Reeves (bass), Ralph Molina (drums), Stephen Stills (vocals), Bill Peterson (flugelhorn)

Within the first second of pressing play (or dropping the needle) Neil starts singing and playing Tell Me Why. There's no intro, no build up, just a straight ahead song. That's kind of the overall feeling of this album. In hindsight, it seems strange that "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "When You Dance I Can Really Love" are the two singles, and "Southern Man" was never actually released as single. When you listen to album as a whole it sort of makes sense, "Southern Man" is the only really heavy song on this album (and Neil's heaviest song so far in his career) and, thus, it's not exactly representative. Yet, although this is a rather quiet and somewhat somber album, it retains a certain rawness that stops it from ever becoming soft or dull. I think this partly because of how the album was recorded.

The initial recording sessions took place in the winter of 1970 with Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina) at Sunset Sound Studios, Los Angeles. These sessions produced the tracks "I Believe In You", "Oh, Lonesome Me", "Birds" and "When You Dance I can really love." It was around this time that Danny Whitten developed an addiction to heroin and became increasingly difficult to work with. Neil responded by dismissing Crazy Horse and decided to finish the album on his own.

Building a small makeshift studio in his basement, Neil recruited some additional musicians to help him record the rest of the album. Although he retained Ralph Molina on drums, Billy Talbot was replaced by Greg Reeves on bass. With the addition of Stephen Stills on vocals, the band became of sort of hybrid between Crazy Horse and the CSNY backing band. We also see the return of constant collaborator Jack Nitzsche on piano, and the introduction of Nils Lofgren.

At this time Nils was and unheard musician who played guitar with a band called Grin based out of Washington, DC. Much like he had taken the Rockets under his wing and transformed into Crazy Horse, Neil decided to adopt Grin. He moved them out to California and set them up in a house in Laurel Canyon. Here they began working on their debut album (which was produced by David Briggs and features Young, Whitten, and Molina on background vocals). Unlike Crazy Horse, however, Grin never became one of Neil's backing bands. Instead he just poached Nils, but in a rather strange move, placed him piano instead of guitar.

The combination of a makeshift studio and a makeshift band is what gives this record such an honest, live, and electric feeling. It doesn't suffer from the same sort of overproduced light rock AM radio sound that plagues many other folk records from the early 1970s. Essentially, it's a folk album recorded in DIY punk rock fashion. This is probably one of the reason the critics hated it. For example, check out this review from Rolling Stone (1970):
"Neil Young devotees will probably spend the next few weeks trying desperately to convince themselves that After The Gold Rush is good music. But they'll be kidding themselves. For despite the fact that the album contains some potentially first rate material, none of the songs here rise above the uniformly dull surface. In my listening, the problem appears to be that most of this music was simply not ready to be recorded at the time of the sessions. It needed time to mature. On the album the band never really gets behind the songs and Young himself has trouble singing many of them. Set before the buying public before it was done, this pie is only half-baked."
And then specifically referring to "Southern Man":
"By today's standards, the ensemble playing is sloppy and disconnected."
I don't think anyone has ever missed the point so completely. Just take a moment and listen to band on this song. They sound like a real band does when they play live. They are reacting, they are adjusting, they aren't playing to a metronome, they're playing to each other. Neil's guitar leads aren't playing overtop of this song, they are in the middle of it, helping to shape it. It's not some complicated blues solo, nor it is some wanky progressive demonstration. It is Neil strangling the life out his guitar, one note at time. Sometimes he does this in rapid succession, other moments he stretches it and bleeds the guitar out.

I don't really anything negative to say about this record. I've been listening to it since I was at least fourteen years old on fairly regular basis and I've never grown tired or bored with it. Even though one could argue that "Til the Morning Comes" and "Cripple Creek Ferry" are filler songs which were likely recorded to round out each side of the album, the fact remains these are still great. In fact "Til the Morning Comes" serves a really amazing function, using its rambunctious gang vocals to make the following song "Oh, Lonesome Me" sound even more lonely in comparison.

Spending the week listening to this album gave me a new appreciation for the song "Birds". For some reason it really stood out to me this time around. I'm not exactly sure why. That's what I'm beginning to discover as a review these records weekly. Music and the way it makes you feel is extremely difficult to describe with words. I guess that's why we have music.


NEXT WEEK: Neil Young - Harvest (1972) 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Miocene Mammal Monday: Squalodon

Meet Squalodon, an extinct genus of whale that lived from the mid-Oligocene to mid-Miocene (33-14 million years ago). The first Squalodon fossils were discovered in 1840 by the French naturalist Jean-Pierre Sylvestre de Grateloupand. Squalodon derives its name from two sources. First, it has teeth that kinda look like shark teeth and there is a genus of sharks called Squalus. Secondly, Squalodon was originally thought to be an iguanodont dinosaur (aka duck-billed dinosaur). Squash those two names together and KAPOW! You get yourself a Squalodon.

Today we know that Squalodon belonged to the Odontoceti, a suborder of whales that posses teeth rather than baleen. Living representatives of this suborder include sperm whales, beaked whales, and dolphins. Unlike modern tooth whales which have undifferentiated teeth (all teeth are basically the same shape and size), Squalodon had very complex teeth that resemble primitive whales from the Eocene known as the Archaeoceti.

Neil Young with Crazy Horse - Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)

Release date: May 14, 1969
Producers: David Briggs and Neil Young
Singles: Down by the River, Cinnamon Girl

Track listing:
Cinnamon Girl, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Round & Round (It Won't Be Long), Down by the River, The Losing End (When You're On), Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets), Cowgirl in the Sand

Neil Young (vocals, guitar), Danny Whitten (guitar, vocals), Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums, vocals), with Bobby Notkoff (violin on Running Dry) and Robin Lane (harmony vocal on Round and Round).

My first musical influence was my father. He didn't play an instrument, he played records. Growing up I got to hear lots of different bands. One of the records he played that I first remember gravitating towards was "Everyone Knows This is Nowhere". I'm lucky that he had good taste in music, otherwise I could be spending 2015 reviewing Micheal MacDonald records. That's a fate I would not wish upon my worst enemy. 

Initially, when I first heard this record the song that grabbed me was "Down by the River". It was probably the catchy chorus and the dark lyrics. Once I grew a little older and started playing the guitar I fell in love with song in a completely new way. Anyone who has ever picked up a guitar knows why. No better improvisational guitar jam every been captured. This isn't virtuosity, it's real life guitar. One guitar runs around the other,changing its pace, attack, starting, stopping. Meanwhile, the rhythm guitar plays two chords, but, just like the solo itself it isn't repetitive or predictable. It moves with the same anticipation of the lead, being equally unsure and confident of what comes next.

That's what makes this record superior to Neil's first release. He's playing with a band. This band isn't made up of session musicians, it's a real rock and roll band. Neil Young fans probably already know the story a little bit. Crazy Horse had existed on its own in various formations before Neil encountered them. Initially, they were an acapella doo-wop band called Danny and the Memories before morphing into a psychedelic rock band called The Rockets

This album has some of Neil's biggest commercial radio hits (probably second to Harvest). Buried among these is "The Losing End" a great song that can be overlooked. It doesn't feature the elaborate improvisational guitar work that defines much of this album. At first it might just sound like a simple country song, but you can still hear the doo-wop roots of Crazy Horse bleeding into melody of the chorus. There's something kind of haunting about it too, it's not as sweet as it first sounds.

There's really only one song that I'm not overly fond of on this record. That's "Round & Round". It just seems kinda weak compared to the rest of the album. Still, if I was given a time machine and a producer credit on this album, I wouldn't change a thing.This album is as close to perfect as albums get. But, it's also just the beginning. It is the basement upon which all future Neil Young and Crazy Horse records are built.
NEXT WEEK: Neil Young - After the Goldrush (1970)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Miocene Mammal Monday: Anchitherium

The first horses appear in the fossil record at the end of the Eocene (52 million years ago). They were considerably smaller back then, about the the size of a fox, and typically had three toes per foot. By the beginning of the Miocene (20 million years ago), horses had become larger on average, but they were still smaller than modern horses are today. Early horses were native to the Americas, and near the beginning of the Miocene they began to disperse across the Bering land bridge into Asia and then Europe. The fossil record also shows us that this was a very rapid migration. Horses proliferated throughout Eurasia during the early Miocene and very quickly became incredibly wide spread group of animals.

Anchiterium dentition (McFadden, 2008).
Anchitherium was a horse genus native to North and South America. Interestingly, it appears to be ancestral the larger bodied Eurasian species Sinohippus as well as two North American species, Hypohippus and Megahippus. Thus, Anchitherium forms something of an evolutionary link that ties the paleobiology of western and eastern hemispheres together.

 Like most horses of the early Miocene, Anchitherium had three toes and consumed leaves. See, back in those days horses weren't really the grassland grazers that we think of today. Instead they were more likely to live in wooded environments and ate soft foods. That being said, the teeth of Anchiterium were much more inclined towards grinding than many of the earlier horse species from the Eocene and Oligocene.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Neil Young (1969)

Release date: January 22, 1969
Producers: Neil Young & David Briggs
Singles: The Loner

Track listing:
 The Emperor of Wyoming, The Loner, If I Could Have Her Tonight, I've Been Waiting for You, The Old Laughing Lady, String Quartet from Whiskey Boot Hill, Here We Are in the Years, What Did You Do to My Life?, I've Loved Her So Long, The Last Trip to Tulsa

 Neil Young: vocals, guitars, piano, synthesizer, harpsichord, pipe organ; Ry Cooder: guitar; Jack Nitzsche: electric piano; Jim Messina: bass; Carol Kaye: bass; George Grantham: drums; Earl Palmer: drums. With backing vocals by: Merry Clayton, Brenda Holloway, Patrice Holloway, Gloria Richetta Jones, Sherlie Matthews, Gracia Nitzsche.

As I begin this project of reviewing all of Neil Young's forty-six albums I've quickly come to realize I can't do this this in a vacuum. I've been listening to Neil essentially since I was born, so I'm quite familiar with much of his work (although there are still plenty of albums which I've never heard). As I listened to this album I heard song structures, chord progressions, and particular ways of phrasing lyrics, which Neil repeats throughout his career. It's impossible to listen to this album without thinking of what is to come, and I think that has effected how I heard this record this time around.

First off, it's really quite amazing how this record starts with short, clean, instrumental (The Emperor of Wyoming). Who begins there much anticipated debut solo record like that? Neil Young, that's who. You're gonna have to wait until the second song if you want to hear the single! Not only that, but "The Emperor of Wyoming" is aggressively tight. Neil's guitar playing never gets out of control. In hindsight he almost seems like he put this song first just to show you he can write and play a very standard instrumental style song. Then, on later records he'll essentially crush this standard with extended jams with multiple solos that never end. It's almost like he's setting you up before the coming explosion.

And one thing I really like these first two songs (The Emperor of Wyoming and The Loner) is how the strings fit into the song perfectly without ever being heavy handed. Not a lot of people have ever mixed orchestras and distorted guitars and make it sound good. That being said, the B side of the record starts with a short instrumental "String Quartet from Whiskey Boot Hill" composed by Jack Nitzsche, and it's complete pointless more filler.

One of the greatest songs on this album has to "I've Been Waiting for You". I love the way the lead guitar enters in and out of the song and overpowers everything in sight. But, then when you get to the end of the song, and Neil's guitar starts really getting wild, the song fades away. In fact, it does this on the previous song, "If I Could Have Her Tonight" too. I don't really like fade outs. I think it's cheating and in this case it gives the album a feeling of being contained or boxed in. In part this may have to do with the fact that Neil decided to use studio musicians instead of using a road traveled band. Although this are some of the biggest studio names of the day (Ry Cooder, Earl Palmer, and Carol Kaye), they ultimately fail to achieve the perfect mixture of looseness and precision we see in Neil's later work.

I'm surprised no soul band has, at least to my knowledge, ever covered "I loved her so". It would be really cool to hear this song performed a la Otis Redding or something of the like. If you're in a soul band, please do this. "What Did You Do to My Life?" is another favorite from this album. The way it moves from a schmaltz yacht rock verse into an increasingly darker and darker chorus, then it pops back out into yacht rock, and then back to darkness. But it does this in such a slow creepy manner, its so gradual you don't always notice it happening. But, then, ARGGHH!! another premature fade out.

All in all, this is a pretty good record. I'm not sure it'll make my best top ten Neil Young albums list, but it definitely won't make the 10 ten worst Neil Young albums either.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)


The first time I remember meeting Scott was back in early 2003. It was at the Subway on Prospect Street in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I was a sandwich artist. One day this guy shows up with a mowhawk and jacket with "Devilution Now!" written on the back. I can't remember if it was marker or a homemade patch. He was there to work as a sandwich artist too. So he did and he was a great guy. We used to call the radio station and get them to play Ramones and New York Dolls. I woke up today and learned that Scott died yesterday. That really sucks.

Scott was probably the biggest Atomic Machetes fan in the world. Back in 2011, when we did our first reunion show, Scott sang "Satan is Alright" with us.