blue thirty-nine: Richard Youngs


One of the best things about running your own micro-label is - as well as sometimes being first on the scene with an exciting new artist or approach - occasionally getting to work in a creative capacity with musicians that are personal heroes. So it is with Richard Youngs, whose truly unique music I have loved since encountering the shattering psych-folk classic Airs of The Ear back in 2003 (and which remains one of my all-time favourite albums).

One of the two best Richards currently operating in popular music (the other being Richard Dawson), Richard Youngs has put his name to around 170 releases over the last three decades. I can’t pretend to have heard all of them, but certainly each one I have heard has felt cosmically unforced - as natural and pure as breathing - while at the same time sounding somehow like little else, except, well, Richard.

So, while Richard’s contribution to the Blue Tapes series skews away from the minimal, transcendent soul songs of his popular albums, like River Through Howling Sky or Belief – deeper into abstraction and repetition – there is identifiably the same powerful instincts guiding these four mantric compositions.

Something about the insistent pluck of the 7-string nylon-strung guitar still goes hard for the gut, and your head is tantalised always by those characteristic smears and dots of aliensound – here provided by wordless manipulated tape loops of Richard’s voice.

This is really playful, fun music. My favourite song is track 2, Sudden Thoughts on Slow Insurrection. It might not have words or a ‘chorus’ as such, but to me this is a pop song, spinning merrily between A and B sections with Richard thunking away on the baritone acoustic with a catchy, jaunty riff and hiccupping vocal refrain. You could easily forget that these are tape loops, he sounds so satisfied and lost in the sound, happy to plonk away on his pop song forever. I can imagine flappers dancing to it in some alternative 1920s of the mind, stuck in a psychedelic Charleston time-loop, scrolling back and forth.

Each of these four songs suits a different mood, so I think each has its own equal potential to be someone’s favourite song. Whether it’s the triumphant massed choir of Richards on Strange War-Mind Looks at World and it Withers, Moon Thing’s extra-terrestrial pop, or the looping, backwards-masked Richards that sound like they’re calling you to prayer on Escape, there is something here for everyone!

Praise for Richard Youngs

“His quavering yet strident voice is a bright silver thread through British music; his singing style, somewhere between conversation and benediction, recalls everything from sea shanties to Gaelic psalm singing, Mark E Smith to the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan. The neatest description of him probably comes in the title of his 2005 album The Naive Shaman.” – The Guardian

“At this point, the Glaswegian singer, guitarist, improviser, and experimentalist Richard Youngs can do just about anything, from the freakiest folk to the moodiest minimal electronics, and still sound like himself.” – Pitchfork

“The postpunk autodidact's postpunk autodidact” – The Wire

“Richard Youngs is a singular musician, for whom the description ‘unclassifiable’ comes in very handy. He has released an impossible number of albums over the last 25 years, and his collaboration list is a pocket guide to a persistent, shamanic strain of alternative British music.” – The Quietus

“Since 1990, Glasgow’s Richard Youngs has been meshing the structures of folk music with the textures of avant-garde experimentation, sustaining unbearable and yet egoless levels of shamanic intensity that are profoundly transportative and quietly devastating.” – Stewart Lee

“The Glasgow-based singer-songwriter has long been one of the most enigmatic, not to mention prolific, figures in the British underground. Perhaps best known – at least amongst those only loosely acquainted with his work – for his disregard of genre boundaries, Youngs is one of the great musical polymaths.” – Drowned in Sound

“Richard Youngs has been many things over the last 25 years or so, but whether he’s flitting between acoustic, a cappella, folk or out-there electronics, he’s always willfully prolific.” – Loud and Quiet

“Troubadour, atonal noisemaker, electronic meddler… the work of a stubborn maverick pursuing his own lone path.”– Clash

“…even across such impressive variation, each record is quintessentially Richard Youngs, a quality evoked not only through the name on the cover, but also through a few consistent elements: patience, a lack of clutter (Youngs usually works with few elements in each of his compositions), and a penchant for repetition.” – Tiny Mix Tapes

“You simply have no idea where he’s going to take you, and that’s the attraction. His mojo seems to be everywhere, anywhere, spinning a multitude of faces, sometimes simultaneously jumbled at other times Plain Janed into disbelief. Delivering both experimental and folk hues with equal passion, his mood swings and obsessive tendencies filling up scores of albums in a derailment of expectation, a non-compromised vision.” – Freq

“…a record that you may not like or even “get”, but you can lose yourself in the familiar sense of disorientation and confusion of life that is revealed by a divine understanding within the songs themselves.” – The Line of Best Fit

“Richard Youngs is an enigma of an artist and even when he decides to take his structures back to the simplest possible format, he comes up with a collection of songs so unique it’s hard to find any clear reference points.” – Dusted

“There's no short cut to typifying his mode or milieu. Collections of extended austere songs tapping into a folk tradition slot next to electronic experiments, psychedelic drones, and musique concrete-like constructions… the thread that ties it all together is a willingness to explore his limits, to challenge and surprise.” – Comes With A Smile

“…positively dripping with somber, hallucinatory gems that seamlessly envelope you in a soothing silvery blanket of longing and heartache.” – 50thirdandthird