After the Gold Rush

After the Gold Rush

100 Best Albums: No. 81 After the Gold Rush is probably the first multiplatinum album to be recorded in someone’s basement, but more importantly, it sounds like it. Having peeled away from the formalities of Crosby, Stills & Nash with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Young settled into the style that defined him for the next 50-plus years: intuitive, direct, a little messy but with a reliable line on what often felt like deeper creative truths. Factories, he called recording studios—places where you churned out your album in one room while another band churned theirs out the next room over. Where documentary film had the unvarnished simplicity of cinema verité, Young said, well, he was gonna do the same for music. The heavy songs are pretty (“Southern Man,” “When You Dance I Can Really Love”) and the pretty songs feel as comforting and eternal as an old shoe (“Only Love Can Break Your Heart”). And in a moment when the optimism of the ’60s was dissipating into the realities of the Vietnam War and ecological ruin, Young took the now-familiar step of engaging his surroundings by withdrawing to somewhere safer, quieter, more sober, more despairing (“After the Gold Rush”)—a hermeticism that gave us everything from Elliott Smith to Bon Iver. James Taylor and Joni Mitchell could keep their sophistication—Young was gonna rhyme “burning” with “turning” and “fly” with “sky” all day long. When the hotshot teenage guitarist Nils Lofgren fielded his request to play piano by saying he didn’t know how, Young said great—that’s exactly the kind of pianist he was looking for.

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