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Neil Young’s ‘Psychedelic Pill’ tough to swallow

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Updated: December 1, 2012 6:11AM

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Psychedelic Pill” (Reprise) ★★ Now 66, Neil Young, is either boring or brilliant. When he’s not playing the part of grumpy old man (straight out of an old “Saturday Night Live” sketch), which he’s done ably since he was about 30, he teeters toward brilliance. “Psychedelic Pill” — the second album this year from Young and Crazy Horse but the first original material with the band since 2003 — boasts a few brilliant moments amid numerous typically thundering and meandering dull diversions.

This is Young’s longest album, clocking in at about an hour and a half — and the first track, “Driftin’ Back,” is a third of that. It’s also one of two songs on the album (the other is “She’s Always Dancing”) that begins with sweet harmonies from the band, which are quickly lost within and overtaken by a crunching, Crazy Horse electric jam, as if Young is grinding out his CSNY past like a cigarette butt. For 27 minutes, the band is driftin’, back and forth, in that swaying, alternately hypnotic and patience-testing way of theirs. “Walk Like a Giant” uses its 16-minute length to greater effect; after Young sings about the simple, childlike fantasy of wanting to step high and hard over the landscape, the band spends the last five minutes crafting musical stomps — footsteps that fade into the distance. Dinosaur rock, indeed.

Listen closely to that song, though, and you’ll hear Young lamenting many of the failed aspirations of his generation. Lyrically, “Psychedelic Pill” is a big fat suppository of wearisome boomer whining. Young just published a memoir, “Waging Heavy Peace,” and this album is something of a bonus feature to that — songs about themes from the book and songs about writing the book itself. Only “Ramada Inn,” a powerful narrative about love’s powers of survival, avoids tipping over into self-indulgence. Otherwise, the album’s a bit of a pill.

Paul Banks, “Banks” (Matador) ★★★ Interpol front man Paul Banks first stepped aside for his own project in 2009, but he veiled that mostly pre-Interpol material behind a pseudonym, Julian Plenti. Now Banks turns on, well, at least some warm lamplight to illuminate himself. Thankfully, this is not just a batch of songs Interpol didn’t get around to recording. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine even angular Interpol tackling the ambitious sweep of these compositions, many of which are mini-suites swinging between accessible indie-rock, pastoral pop and occasionally dissonant psychedelia. Given that the word “detached” is applied to Banks in nearly every review, “Banks” is a surprisingly organic offering that opens with a strolling gait and some warm violins (“The Base”). The hypnotic evolution of “Arise Awake,” the ambling instrumental “Lisbon” (Banks, it seems, might write a great film score someday) or the sample-driven “Another Chance” are sonic adventures that establish Banks as truly individual before his final two groove-driven tracks remind us, oh, yeah, the Interpol guy.

In concert: Paul Banks performs Nov. 7 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North.

Various Artists, “Only 4 U: The Sound of Cajmere and Cajual Records, 1992-2012” (Strut) ★★★ A worthy round-up of an important Chicago house music figure and those in his orbit, “Only 4 U” shows off Curtis A. Jones’ clubby side (no punkish Green Velvet side-project material here). The beats didn’t change much, but the dressings did. From the stark, anti-“Popcorn” thwacks of “Percolator,” Jones draws the same basic beat through the years, but by “Midnight” (with Walter Phillips) and “Say U Will” (with Dajae) the skeletons support supple curves, sultry shapes and real soul. The house becomes a bit more homey — a good thing, really. A few other artists resurface here, as well, namely two excellent and inventive 12s by Gemini (“If You Got to Believe in Something,” “Le Fusion”). For club rats, this is a Numero-level compilation.

In concert: A Cajual release party is scheduled for Nov. 18 at Green Dolphin Street, 2220 N. Ashland.

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