By Allison Stewart
"I've tried to leave my past behind," Neil Young sings on his new album, "Le Noise," and it's at least partly true: Few artists have struggled harder to find new sonic landscapes upon which to explore the same lyrical themes. "Le Noise," a noise-folk experiment conducted with producer Daniel Lanois, finds Young both examining and strip-mining his past.
Hard times tend to make for great Neil Young albums, and "Le Noise" might be his best since 1995's "Mirror Ball." An angry folk album at heart, it braces Young's stalwart folk-rock songs against a barrage of whirligig sounds usually better suited to emerging electro bands from Brooklyn.
Young's preoccupations -- the futility of war, the fecklessness of bankers and politicians -- are more relevant than ever. On the disarmingly meta "Love and War," one of the disc's few conventional guitar ballads, Young sings about singing about war ("When I sing about love and war/I don't really know what I'm sayin' "). And "Hitchhiker" is a molasses-thick travelogue through Young's pharmaceutical-happy past.
The best tracks here are harrowing and insistent, loud enough to kick up a racket, quiet enough to pick up every quaver in Young's increasingly wintry voice. Lanois and Young used souped-up electric and acoustic guitars to create most all the disc's distortion, loops and vocal effects -- a novel way of getting where electro bands have long gone. "Le Noise" feels like a discovery, even if it's really the sound of Young discovering the same sonic scratches and scrapes everyone else has been using for years, dressed up in a more artful package.
Recommended tracks: "Love and War," "Hitchhiker"