Richard Youngs is a reclusive musician from Scotland whose work was devoted
for a long time to "lo-fi" improvisations inspired by minimalism and
John Fahey's instrumental folk music.
His first album,
Advent (1988 - Table Of The Elements, 1998 - Jagjaguwar, 2004), contains three lengthy (untitled) spectral
improvisations for piano, guitar, oboe and voice.
The only accompaniment to Part I is a cheap piano that repeats a dull
refrain, but in Part II it is joined by a dissonant clarinet that
indulges in free-jazz improvisation and later by another woodwind (flute?)
that works as a distant and more elegant echo.
The 18-minute Part III is the real treat: here the piano's pattern
(which is basically a slow-motion version of Terry Riley's repetitive
minimalism) is mixed with a loud guitar distortion that oscillates too but
also introduces jarring industrial overtones.
The experiment was a bit naive and childish, but it set the course for the
first part of his career.
A prolific collaboration with
Simon Wickham-Smith began on
the four lengthy free-form noise collages/jams of Lake (1990 - VHF, 1997).
Ceaucescu (Forced Exposure, 1992), ostensibly a collection of songs,
is the most fragmented and bizarre of the series: chaotically orchestrated for
dulcimer, keyboards and guitars, it also entirely sung.
In their quirky musical
excursions the duo manages to fuse the majestic and the amateurish.
The pub singalong I Live In A Big City and the political anthem
A Song For The Spanish Anarchists
are merely drenched in childish electronic noise.
Overview And Sales Planning unleashes violent synth distortions against
a pounding background.
Goat is just one massive wall of guitar noise with some wordless vocals
floating in the air. At Home replaces the uniform noise with a seismic
vibration, but the concept is the same.
On the other hand, the hidden choir of Chiliast Hymn
extracts an almost religious feeling out of the hyper-psychedelic cacophony.
The bouncing fanfare of Just Imagine evokes a jug band of androids,
which is both the least noisy and the most amusing of these skits.
The 14-minute Ceaucescu finally improves on the combination of noise
and voice by playing the free-form vocals with more intensity in an abstract
all-enveloping maddeningly crackling ether and with all sorts of undercurrents.
Kretinmuzak (Slask, 1994) added one more epic-length work,
The Proof Of The Point, and
Asthma And Diabetes (Forced Exposure, 1994) contained two more (notably Diabetes for more than 20 instruments)
Next came the single
Worried About Heaven (Fourth Dimension, 1994)
and the EP 444d (Fourth Dimension, 1995).
Another peak of the collaboration,
Enedkeg (Majora, 1996) was perhaps the most ambitious of the series.
This one indulged in otherworldly drones.
The quiet chant of Normal flaots amid tinkling instruments.
A new lengthy dissonant piece, the 16-minute
More Urban Music for the Middle Of Nowhere orchestrates various kinds
of sustained artificial sounds:
first sideral hisses and hellish moans,
then cryptic tides and flashing metallic clangor.
This Freudian trip contrasts with the 23-minute minimalist concerto
Duet, whose clean organ-like drone exudes a spiritual
quality even while it accumulates the drones of other instruments.
Veil (Insignificant, 1997) added sampler, rhythm machine and synthesizer, notably in the lengthy Angels From CT.
The live improvisations of Knish (Ignivomous, 1996),
and Red And Blue Bear (Insignificant, 1997), with more electronics and less structure (ostensibly a children's album replete with folkish melodies), were minor versions of their aesthetic.
Finally, Pulse Of The Rooster (VHF, 1998) was a simpler work, basically psychedelic pop for late hippies (Shanti Deva).
New Angloid Sound (Forced Exposure, 1993) contains covers of traditional
folk music performed on guitar and kazoo.
Other collaborations include
Durian Durian (Forced Exposure, 1993) with
Neil Campbell, Simon Wickham-Smith and Stewart Walden (each artist created his
own music independently, and later Youngs mixed them together),
Radios (Freek, 1996) and Radios 2 (Freek, 1996) with Brian Lavelle,
Site / Realm (VHF, 1995) and Relayer (2002) with Skullflower's guitarist Matthew Bower,
and Ilk's Zenith (1998) with a poet.
Festival (Table Of The Elements, 1996) was only his third solo
album and contained five compositions for one-man band. Youngs tried to turn
the elements of his lengthy improvisations with
Wickham-Smith into full-fledged but shorter and structured songs. The result
was a hodgepodge of amateurish imitations of psychedelic music.
Georgians (VHF, 1996) was a collaboration with Stephen Todd. Most of the
tracks sound like brief experiments. Even the two longer tracks sound more
like ideas than like music
(Sixteen 00 is merely repetition for the sake of repetition).
House Music (Meme, 1997) returns to Festival's music for
lo-fi home-made instruments and found noises, and ranks among his best works.
A new artist emerged at the end of the decade, an artist whose roots were in
the folksinger tradition of the 1970s, not in the minimalists of the 1960s.
The three lengthy compositions on Sapphie (1998, Jagjaguwar, 2000) are
slow and tender "ballads" for voice and guitar, that owe much more to folk
than to avantgarde music.
Soon It Will Be Fire sounds like a muezzin remixing a
Leonard Cohen dirge.
The tender languor of A Fullness Of Light In Your Soul straddles the
border between psychedelic yearning and wavering yodel.
The 18-minute The Graze Of Days is even slower and leaves more room
for Youngs' doleful strumming.
Making Paper (Jagjaguwar, 2000) is a recital of plaintive piano-based
lieder that sound like Nick Drake dirges or
Incredible String Band lullabies
Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom.
The 19-minute psalm Warriors is hyper-slocore: the voice unfolds the
melody at a very slow pace, while the hand occasionally hits the keyboard of
the piano. Silence prevails over music.
The 22-minute Only Halogonian is dominated by a quiet, endless-looping
neoclassical piano carillon, slowly interlaced with Young's liturgical singing.
Youngs also recorded an album of duets with Kawabata Makoto (VHF, 2001),
a collaboration with the Vibracathedral Orchestra's Neil Campbell,
How The Garden Is (Harpendedn, 2001) and an album with
Sunroof and Vibracathedral Orchestra, Freak On (VHF, 2001).
The "Radios" series with Brian Lavelle (basically, free-form noise)
has continued over the years with
Radios 3-4-5 (Freek, 1997) and Radios 6-7-8 (Bake, 2001).
The harsh, post-industrial
Metallic Sonatas (VHF, 1999) and
LAmmERGEIER (VHF, 2001) are new collaborations with Simon Wickham-Smith
that open new "metallic" avenues for their improvisation.
May (Jagjaguar, 2002), humbly arranged for acoustic guitar and voice,
sounds like a continuation of Sapphie, but without the same focus
Youngs also recorded four untitled duets with
Acid Mothers Temple's leader Makoto Kawabata,
released on an untitled album (VHF, 2002).
Airs of the Ear (Jagjaguwar, 2003) runs the gamut from the
evocative and philosophical Life on the Stream to the
sinister and discordant Fire Horse Rising, while radiating
ecstasy (Oh My Stars), romance (Halifax Amore) and
fear (Machaut's Dream).
Youngs has entered a more personal and musical phase of his life/career.
He now composes real songs that aim at delivering real meaning, rather
than abstract soundpainting aimed at shocking the listener.
Ourselves (VHF, 2004) and
Partrick Rain Dance (VHF, 2005)
document performances with percussionist Alexander Neilson, that include
both covers and acid jams.
in particular the 16-minute Music Of The Last Sun,
River Through Howling Sky (Jagjaguar, 2004) marks further progress
simplicity and the inner world, although the lugubrious 24-minute blues
Red Cloud Singular
sounds a bit self-indulgent (six of those minutes would have been enough).
The Ilk project was revived by Canticle (2005).
The Naive Shaman (Jagjaguwar, 2005)
A major detour in his career, Summer Wanderer (2005) was a moving
5 Years (VHF, 2006) collects material composed during five years with
Belsayer (Time-Lag, 2006) is a collaboration among
Alastair Galbraith, Richard Youngs and Alex Neilson that yields
some languid droning ragas.
Youngs also recorded a collaboration with Tirath Singh Nirmala (aka John Clyde-Evans), Untitled (HP Cycle, 2007).
Fascinated by the shakuhachi, Youngs experimented on
Multi-Tracked Shakuhachi (2006), another highlight of his versatile
Road Is Open Life (Celebrate Psi, 2006) is the fourth collaboration with
drummer Alex Neilson, another venture into progressive-rock and acid-rock.
Electric Lotus (2007) combines an LP of rock music (with
drummer Alex Neilson) with a CD of chamber duets for shakuhachi and percussion.
Autumn Response (2007) was a bad version of
Sapphie (1998), an album of pieces for acoustic guitar that left behind
the artifices of droning, distortion and studio manipulation for a simple
take on old-fashioned folk music. The lullabies were repetitive and monotonous.
The 17-minute Something Like Air was the only one that matched the magic
Beyond The Valley Of Ultrahits (Sonic Oyster Records, 2009) was a
collection of melodic songs.
The collection takes off with the spirited The Valley In Flight, the
simplest refrain after the singalong Oh Reality.
The digital arrangements prevail
in the Sting-like anguished ballad Like A Sailor;
the atmosphere of Collapsing Stars
is largely sculpted by the beatbox and industrial noise;
and the existential cosmic elegy Radio Innocents is drenched in
Even though three or four songs are redundant,
the album proved Youngs a talented singer-songwriter and, above all,
a creative arranger.
Under Stellar Stream (Jagjaguwar, 2009) continued the experiment
with that form of extended vocal litany and, if possible, in an even starker and
emptier ambience. The slow, extended lament of
Broke Up By Night is rather naked,
but the obsessive repetition in All Day Monday And Tuesday instead
achieves the intensity of a mantra.
A poignant achievement is the funereal chant Cluster To A Star, but
mainly because in this case the repetitive vocal lines float in a
ghostly digital soundscape.
In a progression towards more and austere atmospheres, Arise Arise
is permeated with the tragic quality of Greek theater, a quality that comes
from the fatalistic tone of the voice and from the sparse piano notes that
The sustained recitation of My Mind Is In Garlands, perhaps the peak of
pathos and the peak of his vocal art so far, is reminiscent of church liturgy.
The naked settings of these lengthy psalms represent a new direction in its
own. The almost absence of musical arrangements creates a sense of timeless
introspection. Youngs' songs delve into the subconscious the way
Zen meditation does.
Amplifying Host (2011), featuring Galaxie 500's drummer Damon Krukowski,
monotonous and overlong, and weighed down by his non-stellar vocals.
The mini-album Atlas of Hearts (2011) was largely irrelevan
while the mini-album Long White Cloud (2011) contained two of
his most evocative meditations,
Big Waves of an Actual Sea and Mountains into Outer Space.
The many directions explored by Amaranthine (2011), rarely with
enough devotion, sound redundant in view of his previous achievements.
Core To The Brave (Root Strata, 2012) was his most aggressive work yet,
but too much variety was increasingly resulting in mediocre quality.
Regions Of The Old School (MIE, 2013) featured
vocalist Madeleine Hynes and Neil Campbell on synthesizer.
It includes the 22-minute The Thoughtlife.
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