Neil Young’s Archives Open for Business

by Rick Krueger

Remember Neil Young’s Archives Volume 1?  Released in 2009, it was a comprehensive, though not exhaustive, box set of the man’s music from 1963 to 1972 — 137 tracks, 47 previously unreleased.  If you ponied up a three figure sum (guilty), you could get the set in DVD or Blu-Ray format, and have multiple visual gimcracks to click on and view while the music was playing.  Some of these were quite cool; my favorite was a candid camera video of Young pestering a New York City record store clerk.

Since then, Young has occasionally promised further Archives installments — but given his  multiple interests and projects (along with his propensity to change his mind), it wasn’t surprising that nothing followed.  That is, until yesterday, when www.neilyoungarchives.com went live.  The site will ultimately provide audio/visual access to more than 900 recordings by Young from 1963 to the present, whether solo or with his collaborators through the years — Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Crazy Horse and The Promise of the Real, among others.  Songs and albums are searchable, and everything is also accessible via the “timeline” or “file cabinet” formats used for Archives Volume 1. 

In the FAQ section of the new site, Young and his collaborators go into great detail about their proprietary “Xstream by NYA” format, claiming to offer up to 20 times more audio data than the 320 kilobytes per second of high-quality mp3 files.  Listening to Young’s live Time Fades Away as I type, my streaming rate has ranged from 1600 to 1800 kbps.  It’s an impressive-looking stat, but given the basic grungy sound of the album, it’s hard to hear any substantial difference — especially since my sound system is a solid performer, but nowhere near audiophile territory.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch; to quote the Archives FAQ, “all content and songs on NYA are free for a limited time only.  After that, access will require a subscription.  Duration and cost of subscription are still TBD, but we can tell you that the more users we have the cheaper it will be.”  At least right now, you can log in through Facebook or Google and avoid setting up yet another online account.  Since my interest in Young’s music basically extends through the Rust Never Sleeps era, I’ll hopefully have enough time to listen to the music of his “Ditch trilogy” period (when he made Time Fades Away, Tonight’s The Night, and On the Beach) before the subscription model kicks in. [Note: according to a “Welcome to Neil Young Archives” email I’ve received, my free trial period lasts until June 30.  Plenty of time then!]

In the meantime, the Archives website provides a window of opportunity to hear a seminal artist’s music for free.  If you have any interest in Young’s work, it’s worth checking out.

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