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Richard Youngs Under Stellar Stream Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Youngs creates moods that are almost unsettling in their intimacy and intensity.

Sid Smith 2009

Since the early 90s, Richard Youngs has been engaged in a dogged journey that has pushed out to the very edges of songwriting.

Operating somewhere between oblique sound-collages, performance art and at times a mutant experimental pop music, his work and numerous collaborations document a serially prolific talent that borders on the obsessional.

Constructed from lo-fi components and self-imposed artistic restrictions, this album imagines an eclectic retro-future folk music threaded together from a series of hesitantly executed hand-me-down motifs. These are, in effect, fragmented slivers of half-heard tunes whose scarce chords and mournful atmospheres slowly evolve like a minimalist pibroch.

Despite taking what is often a sparse single melodic idea and then locating it in the scantiest of sonic settings, Youngs nevertheless creates moods that are almost unsettling in their intimacy and intensity. 

Their impact is due in part to the dissonant fragility of his voice, occasionally reminiscent of the way Robin Williamson or Robert Wyatt can strain to breaking point, often challenging the usually accepted boundaries of a chosen melody.

Youngs’ mantric repetition of a line or title (notably on All Day Monday and Tuesday), recalls the way traditional folk tunes deploy recurring phrases as a kind of thematic anchor.

Yet far from providing a safe melodic haven, each repetition produces a nagging, wobbling unease, a necessary side effect of the dark tension which permeates and stains each seemingly delicate song.

Cluster to a Star has Youngs draped upon a bleak soundscape, across which distant bells tunelessly chime and subliminal electronica percolates at the margins. As with other tracks, a doleful pipe organ traces a hesitant air with sporadic flourishes to act as an occasional contrast to the album’s otherwise austere aesthetic.

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