Neil Young’s Archives II: The Fourth Dimension

Previous installments in our thrilling saga:

Neil Young tries to sort out the shambles his Archives Volume II pre-order process became one more time, at the NYA Times-Contrarian:

A DELUXE edition with subtle art differences is coming for those who couldn’t get the limited first one because of the demand and shortage. Those who got the first limited one will get a letter of authenticity sent to them. The Deluxe set is coming March 5 2021. I really hope you all enjoy the music as much as we did making it back then.

Love and be well, Neil and NYA

Links to pre-order the Deluxe Edition (which features the “II” in red, for the same price as the sold-out Limited Deluxe Edition) and the Retail Edition (smaller box, smaller book, $90 less) from Young’s online store The Greedy Hand are now active.

So what have we learned from all this?

  • If you’re Neil Young, you’ve learned that these days it takes a minimum of four months for a second pressing of a box set, no matter how loudly you complain to your record company;
  • If you’re Warner Reprise, you’ve learned that Neil Young will never, ever let go of a bright idea unless he does so on his own — so for pity’s sake, don’t tell him something can’t be done;
  • If you’re a Neil Young fanatic, you’ve learned never to pay $3000 for a Limited Deluxe Edition on eBay — you never know what might happen;
  • If you’re me — well, at least I’ve learned I don’t have to wait four months for my copy. Just don’t expect me to frame my Certificate of Authenticity!

— Rick Krueger

Neil Young’s Archives II: On 3rd Thought …

Neil Young has walked back his walkback at the NYA Times Contrarian:

Reprise Records, my record company for about 50 years, underestimated the demand for Archives Volume II.  We were all surprised.  It is a beautiful package that I am proud to have made for you.  I do feel badly that we did not deliver it to many who were waiting so long for it.

We don’t feel that offering more of a product sold as a limited edition is a good thing to do.  Thank you to all who purchased this set.

In 2021 we will be offering more Archives Volume II products as Reprise had originally planned, available in all outlets.  These, while not the boxed set, will offer all of the music and discs with a smaller book.  The original large book will be available for separate sale.

Thanks!  NYA

So what are the implications here? These thoughts hit me:

  • Note that Reprise was already planning a cheaper version of Archives II. Back in 2009, the basic edition of Archives I (pictured above) dropped the same week as the more expensive DVD & Blu-ray versions (which weren’t considered this time around due to the Archives‘ migration online). It’s arguable that this staged marketing effort was a major reason Archives II’s limited edition sold out; nobody told Neil Young fans that a lower-priced version would eventually be available! (Of course, I wanted the limited edition no matter what, so mission accomplished.)
  • As physical product’s market share in the recorded music industry has eroded, first in favor of downloads, then streaming subscriptions, marketing strategies have also shifted. For the big boys (tech companies and the three major labels) the industry’s physical product (7 percent of US sales in the first half of 2020, measured in dollars) is now mostly a means to wring maximum amounts out of legacy fans with money to spend. The mass market belongs to streaming (85 percent of US sales) — which furnishes them the lions’ share of those proceeds, through paid subscriptions and advertising. Hmm . . . that couldn’t have skewed Reprise’s estimates for Archives II’s limited edition sales, could it?
  • These new realities have also strengthened the power of major labels in relation to artists. If Neil Young — one of the true 800-pound gorillas of rock culture, absolutely used to throwing his weight around to get his way — can’t get Warner Music to pony up a second printing of the limited Archives II, what chance does a start-up artist have pushing back on anything against Warner, Universal or Sony BMG? As David Lowery famously wrote back in 2012, “meet the new boss; worse than the old boss.”
  • The focus on streaming has also changed how legacy musicians and their support staff (or their estates) conceive of box sets and high-end collections. For example, the new super-deluxe edition of Prince’s Sign O’ the Times has a bonus track listing explicitly designed so fans can assemble their own playlists without having to purchase digital or physical versions. And let’s face it, Neil Young wants to sell you a subscription to the Archives website if at all possible; in 2020, downloads (6 percent of US sales) and physical sales are the gravy on top, not the meat and potatoes.
  • In addition to streaming online, the relative shift to LPs offline (currently accounting for 62% of income from US physical sales — it’s the product with a higher value per unit, that outsells CDs about 3 to 1 at independent record stores and still has a small footprint for impulse purchases in big-box chains) has tilted manufacturing and distribution accordingly. What does it say about the industry’s current capacity for physical media that the new indie album by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Love Is The King came out online this past week, but CDs and LPs won’t be available until January? If the big guns are simultaneously bearish on physical sales and hogging CD and vinyl production, how do the little guys get a shot?

In some ways, all of the above is irrelevant to the main thrust of this website. Progressive music in all its forms is, whether we admit it or not, an incredibly small niche in today’s recorded music industry — but one that, between two solidly-funded labels that can get product to the mass market (KScope and Inside Out, which seems to have considerable freedom as part of Sony BMG), a multitude of independent and artist-run ventures and potent distribution channels like Bandcamp and Burning Shed, has proved remarkably resilient. The persistence of prog is a big part of why we love it so.

On the other hand, the music industry already caught one bug in 2020, with US physical sales declining in the second quarter of this year due to the first wave of the COVID pandemic. And if the Goliaths come down with another economic cold . . . could the fallout spread to the little guys with slingshots that we want to support?

–Rick Krueger

Neil Young Archives II: The Saga Continues …

Neil Young apologizes at the NYA Times Contrarian:

As many of you know, the sales of my NYA Archives Volume II did not go quite as expected. I’m sorry so many of you were disappointed in not being able to snag one. Let me give you a little background and tell you what we’re going to do to make this right.

WBR/Reprise, my record label, is responsible for estimating the sales and then producing the product. Estimates are always difficult to predict with the world moving away from tangible, but they clearly failed to anticipate the demand we experienced. I would have preferred to have sold fewer and not have many of you disappointed.

Leading up to the release, we wanted to give you the same convenience of purchasing wherever you are in the world, so WBR built a Greedy Hand Store in the UK and another in Canada. But they were completed and came online late, just before Volume II went on sale, which added to the confusion. We later learned a WBR link for pre-ordering was apparently leaked. Obviously, I’m disappointed in how all this was handled, and will address this.

I read many of your comments, especially from those unable to make a purchase. Here’s what we’re going to do.

I’ve asked WBR/Reprise to create another version of Archives Volume II that will have all the same content, but with some changes in appearance to differentiate it from the first 3000. For those that pre-ordered with the expectation that there would only be 3000, we will allow you to cancel your preorder, if you choose. The new version will be sold at the same price and will come with the same hi-res digital downloads and free NYA membership.

Thanks for all your support. For those still with questions contact the customer support team on your Greedy Hand store or the NYA team.

My deepest apologies to all of you who were disappointed. The leaked preorder link from Warner Brothers is particularly disconcerting to us here at NYA. Warner is usually very reliable. We will be looking into who placed orders using that leak if we can. The second edition will be identical with a minor color difference to identify it.

Sorry, NYA and Neil — be well

— Rick Krueger

Neil Young Archives Volume 2: Pre-Order Details

UPDATED 10/18/2020: The deluxe edition of Archives Volume II is sold out. An official update from the NYA Times Contrarian:

Thanks so much for your support! A second edition is being planned. It will be unique and we will have news for you soon. Needless to say, we are surprised that it sold so quickly.

We are well into production on NYA Volume III and we are considering another edition of NYA Volume I. This labor of love is for you. We are glad you are enjoying this, even in the digital age, where tangibles are becoming more and more rare and costly.

Eleven years after releasing his first archival box set, Neil Young has launched Archives Volume II: 1972-1976. From the pre-order page at Young’s online shop, The Greedy Hand:

The deluxe edition box set of Archives Volume II: 1972-1976 contains 10 CDs with 131 tracks, including 12 songs that have never been released in any form, and 49 new unreleased versions of Young’s classics—studio and live recordings, both solo and with Crazy Horse (Odeon Budokan), The Stray Gators (Tuscaloosa),  the Santa Monica Flyers (Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and The Stills Young Band. It also includes a 252-page hardbound book with hundreds of previously unseen photographs, additional archival materials, a partial tape database, a detailed description of the music, a fold-out timeline of the period.  In addition, each purchase includes the hi-res 192/24 digital files of all 131 tracks, as well as a free one-year membership to the Neil Young on-line archives. The box also includes a massive poster.

Box sets are strictly limited worldwide to 3,000 units.

Your purchase includes one year NYA membership. You will receive information via email on how to redeem your membership on 11/20. If you already have an active membership, you may give this code to a friend, or use it to extend your membership for an additional year.

List price for the pre-order is $249.98 USD, with free shipping as one of the options for the US. (Separate Greedy Hand shops for Canada and the UK were also launched today.) While Archives Volume II is definitely a luxury item, it doesn’t quite rise to Pink Floyd levels; the hi-res downloads and the subscription to the online archives (a $20 value) offset the price tag at least a bit, while eliminating the extra production costs of a Blu-Ray or DVD version and throwing 12 months of hi-res streamed access to Young’s entire catalog in the bargain. One should also note that three of these discs (Tuscaloosa, Roxy:Tonight’s the Night Live and Homegrown) have been released just recently as separate items. No word on whether there will be lower-priced CD-only or digital releases for the set.

And yes, I’ve placed my order (the same day as I bit the bullet and bought the big new Porcupine Tree box). The credit cards groan …

For a more detailed breakdown of Archives, Volume II’s contents, see the post at The Second Disc. And whether you’re planning to buy or not, check out the unboxing video for the set below:

— Rick Krueger

The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!

Since the initial installment of our fall preview, deluxe box set announcements are coming thick and fast. This article includes those mentioned in the preview, plus new announcements that may appeal to our readers. I’ve included approximate list prices in USA dollars (not including shipping), as well as lower-cost options for those who want to hear and support the music without breaking their personal bank. Links are to the ever-ready folks at Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

King Crimson, Complete 1969 Recordings: 20 CDs, 4 BluRays and 2 DVDs include every surviving note Crimson played in their first year — the seminal debut In the Court of the Crimson King plus the complete studio sessions, extant live bootlegs and BBC recordings. The crown jewels here are new stereo, surround and Dolby Atmos mixes of Court by Steven Wilson. Available October 23 ($210 – $240 list price, depending on your vendor); slimmed-down versions of In the Court on 2 CDs + BluRay (with the new stereo and surround mixes, alternate versions and additional material ; $40) or 2 LPs (with alternate versions and additional material; $35) are already available.

Joni Mitchell, Archives Vol. 1 – The Early Years (1963-1967): Nearly six hours of recordings from before Mitchell released her first album — home recordings, radio broadcasts, and live shows, including 29 songs not previously released with her singing them! Available from Mitchell’s website October 30 as follows: complete on 5 CDs ($65); Early Joni 1 LP (1963 radio broadcast; $25, black or clear vinyl) and Live at Canterbury House 1967 3 LPs (3 sets recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan; $60, black or white vinyl).

More from Porcupine Tree, Tangerine Dream, Tears for Fears and others after the jump!

Continue reading “The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!”

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”

2019 Prog (Plus) Preview 2!

More new music, live albums, reissues (regular, deluxe & super-deluxe) and even books about music heading our way between now and Christmas?  Yep.  Following up on my previous post, it’s another exhaustive sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with other personal priorities — below.  Click on the titles for pre-order links — whenever possible, you’ll wind up at the online store that gets as much money as possible directly to the creators.

Out now:

Andrew Keeling, Musical Guide to In the Court of the Crimson King, 10/50 Edition: composer/musicologist/online diarist Keeling’s revision of his 2009 book (the first of a series acclaimed by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp).

Marillion with Friends from the Orchestra: 9 Marillion classics re-recorded by the full band, the string quartet In Praise of Folly, flautist Emma Halnan and French horn player Sam Morris.  Available on CD.

A Prog Rock Christmas: Billy Sherwood produces 11 holiday-themed tracks from the typical all-star cast (members of Yes, Utopia, Flying Colors, Renaissance, District 97, Curved Air and more).  Download and CD available now; LP available November 1.

 

October 25:

King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King (50th Anniversary Edition): featuring brand new stereo and surround mixes in 24/96 resolution by Steven Wilson.  Available in 3 CD + BluRay or  2 LP versions.  (Note that the new mixes will also be included in the Complete 1969  CD/DVD/BluRay box set, which has been delayed until 2020.)

Van Morrison, Three Chords and the Truth: 14 new songs from Van the Man, available in digital, CD or LP versions.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Colorado: the first Young/Horse collaboration since the 2012 albums Americana and Psychedelic Pill, available in CD or 2LP versions.

Continue reading “2019 Prog (Plus) Preview 2!”

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.

Pono, Hawaiian for Snake Oil

ImageI wrote a scree yesterday indicting Pono for all kinds of crimes.  I put it aside.  Like one of Lincoln’s unsent letters, it will cast its heat alone, sitting on my google drive like a hot stone, until that too passes into ether.

Much of my anger came from frustration — in my professional life as an audiovisual archivist I have some sense of the limited capabilities of high resolution audio — and also a lack of information.  I had believed Pono, the high-res audio player Neil Young is backing to rectify what he regards as decades of digital’s abuse of music, was set to use a proprietary format, and would essentially be a platform for selling new releases of old albums that could only be played on Pono.  This is not the case.  PonoMusic will be using FLAC, an open-source audio codec that’s been around nearly as long as folks have cried “foul” at MP3.  FLAC is known as a “non-lossy” compression scheme, meaning that while it will compress the source audio file (whether that file is a high-resolution WAV or merely CD quality), the information it dumps in compression isn’t the actual audio data but rather the metadata that describes the audio and makes it work on various playback systems.

So it’s not in the music file but in the guts of the Pono player, with its advanced circuitry and digital-to-analog conversion system, where the magic happens that Young and Pono’s engineers are claiming.  Which, given the range of gadgetry out there to reproduce sound, makes me shrug my shoulders.  What’s nice to know, though, is that Pono will play those higher-res FLAC files that often inhabit a bandcamp page (as well as WAVs and, for those of us who are unwashed, MP3s).

While I’m no longer out for blood, Neil Young and his Pono provoked my ire in a couple of other ways.  In interviews regarding Pono, Young has suggested that if you’re not listening to high-res audio, and doing so on a player like Pono, that you’re not really listening, that you have a tin ear that can’t truly enjoy the music because of the digital garbage in lower-res files.  There are a ton of counter-arguments here, but I think Neil’s old man snarky-ness in itself is disappointing.  Despite his reputation, he IS a part of the big music business, and has sold to dedicated fans the same record on LP, then cassette, then CD (often multiple re-masterings), then MP3.  To tell them now they need fork over another $15-$25 for the new high-res release and $400 for a player compromises his integrity and smacks of money grab.

It also ignores the fact that most people treat music as a part of a larger experience, whether they’re cranking Pandora through the earbuds at work or enjoying a Sunday morning with a Zeppelin gatefold.  Listening context and setting are everything.  But let’s say you do want to experience what Neil’s talking about.  Good luck.  The real elephant in the room not being mentioned here is the playback system, and by that, I mean the amp and speakers (and listening space, for that matter) Pono might use to reproduce the audio, to actually push the air to your ears.  Without good reproduction, and I mean very, very good reproduction (and in this context headphones just don’t count), Pono’s reproduction of high-res audio — and we’re talking about a sampling rate up to 4x CD quality — is no better than my iPod shuffle.  Will PonoMusic sound great? Sure, if your playback system has a few thousand dollars in it.  Would it hold up to a taste test against a well-mastered CD or higher-quality MP3 played back on a solid but cheaper system? That’s a shootout I’d like to see.

Further reading from the stalwarts at CNET:

http://www.cnet.com/news/sound-bite-despite-ponos-promise-experts-pan-hd-audio/

Neil Young Introduces High-Quality Music System

I just came across this article from the Los Angeles Times talking about Neil Young’s new high-quality music company, PonoMusic. The goal of the company is to create portable music that has a quality as good as the master recordings (meaning it is not compressed). The PonoPlayer will cost a hefty $399 and will be able to hold between 1,000 and 2,000 high-quality albums, which implies that this player will have a rather large hard drive, because high-quality songs are much larger files when compared to their compressed counterparts.

The debate over compressed file formats as a standard in the music industry has raged ever since Apple created iTunes over ten years ago. Prior to iTunes and the iPod, the only way you could listen to music on the go was through a Walkman cassette or CD player. Those had their obvious disadvantages, namely the inability to carry around a lot of music. Once Steve Jobs announced the introduction of the iPod, the music industry was changed forever. Suddenly, people could carry around thousands of songs in a tiny little device that could fit in their pockets. However, the technology of the time did not allow for very large storage in small packages, which led to the need for the compression of songs. The article by Randy Lewis on the LA Times claims that MP3 files contain a mere 5% of the digital information originally supplied by the master recordings. While that may have been true in the 1990s, it is not nearly that bad today. Originally, the bit rate for MP3s was around 190 kbps. iTunes now sells their music at 256 kbps, and CD quality is 320 kbps. (iTunes does not use MP3, they use Apple lossless compression, or m4a, which is much better than MP3.) There are also several other sites online where you can acquire digital downloads of 320 kbps. I assume iTunes is heading in that direction now that the technology is available for larger capacity i-devices. The problem with higher kbps recordings is they take up an enormous amount of valuable space, and technology can only allow so much space in so small a space. According to Matt Komorowski, who has compiled a data table of prices per gigabyte over at his website, 1 gigabyte effectively cost $193,000 back in 1980. The price of 1 gigabyte in 2000 was around $19, and by 2009 was down $0.07. As technology has advanced, the price of storage has dropped dramatically.

Anyways, my point with all this yammering about the history of digital music and storage is to point out that there has been a large debate over the past few years between digital media and physical media. There are many people who claim that vinyl is as close as you can get to live because a vinyl record is an actual analog copy of the sound waves created during the recording. But we must remember that the vinyl records of the 1970, 80s, 90s, and up to today are of a much better quality than the first record made by Thomas Edison in 1878. It only makes sense that the future of digital records will be superior to that first introduced in the late 1990s, and it will be better than what is being offered today. Neil Young is merely trying to bring good audio quality back to the music industry. There is now a whole generation of people (my generation) that has grown up with headphones jammed in their ears, and they know very little about what a high quality recording sounds like (much less high quality music, but that’s a different problem). I think we will begin to see a move towards higher quality digital downloads, but only as the capacity of the portable music players increases. As the price per gigabyte continues to drop, it will be much easier to fit thousands of high quality songs and albums onto a smartphone that fits into your pocket. Neil Young is just trying to speed that process up a bit (don’t laugh too hard over that one).

Here is the link for the LA Times article by Randy Lewis:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-neil-young-pono-music-20140310,0,328753.story#axzz2vbTkDz9V