Richard Youngs - Belief - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Richard Youngs - Belief

by Sean Hewson Rating:8 Release Date:2018-03-02
Richard Youngs - Belief
Richard Youngs - Belief

Richard Youngs – if memory serves – is the only musician that I’ve written to. I was particularly fond of his May album and told him so. He wrote back and also sent me another of his albums. So, I am already biased. Belief is approximately the 140th album that he has been involved in. It is, however, his first solo record since 2010. It is also coming out on Tim Burgess’s (another lovely chap, I’m told) label, O Genesis. The concept behind the album is a cycle of chamber songs, a 21st century update of the solo album – one musician playing all the instruments in one room.

Tinny drum machine and phased synth start My Own 21st Century, like a cut-price Space Rock. Richard Youngs’ vocal sounds like the tired, fragile-sounding Bowie from his last two albums. The lyric also recalls the lyrical career-highs that Bowie was hitting then. Nebulosity features acoustic guitar, plus vocal and instrumental loops. I suspect they were created live using pedals rather than on software. The melody is almost Psalm-like in its gorgeous simplicity. Phased drum machine starts Feeling Like Dystopia, it is soon to be join by tracks of backwards sounds. Youngs’ voice is up front in the mix. He takes his time with the delivery so that we are hanging off his every word. Everything apart from the vocal and the bass are coming through a pedal so it seems like a work of clarification or subversion, depending on what was there first. As The Mind Shrinks It Tends Towards Disappearing is a rowdier beast. The guitar is distorted - a particularly 80s kind of distortion. The vocals are wordless cries. The acoustic guitar on Bewilderment is (again, I’m guessing) going through a Phaser on high speed. It’s a bizarre version of Kevin Shields’ tremolo use where the chords shift in and out of pitch. The uncertainty fits the lyric. A straight acoustic guitar figure starts In Another Fog and the song is relatively straight. Although it has to stand-up to constant attempts at subversion from a pocket version of Tom Waits’ 21st Century albums – weird sounds and voices, strange banging. Like most the songs here, it stops abruptly, giving the impression of an album of sketches. The move towards normality continues on I Wasn’t Alone, with piano joining the arrangement. However, strange noises and ticks still flutter around the edges . Caledonia Running Out Of My Mind seems to have been recorded using the Captain Beefheart trick of not listening to the playback when recording. Again, it creates an unsettling atmosphere but the rule book is never completely thrown away, there are songs here, some of them quite beautiful. The wonderfully titled Can You Not See My Intensity? is a noisy affair. I can’t for the life of me remember what the main effect used is called but I used to be able to get it out of one of those shitty Scream multi-effects pedals. The vocal is a chant of the title. The slightly out of tune acoustic is back for Otherwise Ourselves, joined by piano and bass. The last track is Great Breath Of Wonderment. Phased drum machine and bass give way inexplicably to delayed guitars before we return to the original arrangement and then both arrangements combine.

Belief is a fascinating and destabilising album. The titles tell us as much – Feeling Like Dystopia, Bewilderment, In Another Fog. The influences that I can detect are probably unintentional as Youngs chases his own muse. But, I can hear 21st Century Bowie, Modern R’n’B, and a gaggle of lo-fi pop writers like Stephen Merritt, Grandaddy and Sparklehorse. Some of the songs here are beautiful, especially the first two, but everything is constantly subverted by ‘let’s see what happens if we turn this on’ experimentation. Everything is manipulated but probably not by a computer, it’s more likely to be by effects units and done live to tape or hard drive. Within Richard Youngs a battle/collaboration between accepted forms and newly found sounds rages. We should all pay attention.

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