Richard Youngs: Inceptor, Atlas of Hearts

Richard Youngs is a true English original, clearly driven not only to make music but to make it his life’s work. With a discography currently running to around 50 full-length albums in many different styles and on many different labels, some completely solo, some with collaborators, on a bewildering variety of formats, he’s impossible to pin down or to keep up with. And that, of course, is what makes his work so fascinating. Youngs is no dabbler or bedroom no-hoper; I’ve heard only a fraction of his vast output, but what’s clear to me is that he’s a dedicated and serious-minded artist of the highest calibre. That he’s able to retain such a high level of quality across so many releases and such a breadth of styles is nothing short of remarkable.

Youngs’ work moves restlessly from pastoral folk modes to incendiary guitar improvisations and from droney electronics to skewed pop songs. Much of his more listener-friendly, song-based material (Sapphie, Making Paper, May and several others) has been released on the American Jagjaguwar label; those albums might also be regarded as his “overground” releases, based on the fact that they’re silver CDs rather than CD-Rs and receive proper distribution as opposed to being sold through mail order. But I get no sense that Youngs is saving his best work for the Jagjaguwar series. As I say, his engagement with his art is total and shines through in absolutely everything he does.

These two recent vinyl releases do a fine job of showcasing Youngs’ diversity of approaches. Inceptor is the product of his close association with Wire hack David Keenan and the latter’s Glasgow record shop and mail order deal Volcanic Tongue. The story goes that Keenan challenged Youngs to make a record suitable for release on VT’s own label, bearing in mind the shop’s artistic preference for out-there rock and folk moves. Whether or not Inceptor meets those criteria is not really here or there; what matters is that the record itself is a gloriously unhinged slice of electric guitar meltdown. Youngs attacks his instrument as though in a full-on fight with it, and emerges the clear winner on points. Channelling the malign spirits of Jimi Hendrix and Keiji Haino, the guitarist issues great mountains of acid-drenched delay and sustain, with occasional flights of starry, tremulous vocals. The record is only 30 minutes long, but has the sound and feel of an epic. Edition of 300 copies in silk-screened sleeves.

With Atlas of Hearts, Youngs presents a staggeringly truthful pass through the melancholy seam of English folk music. It’s hard not to be reminded of the unearthly visions of Nick Drake and John Martyn when listening to this record, but Youngs’ take on the tradition is unique. As with Inceptor there’s little point in isolating individual tracks, since the mood of the album is sustained so beautifully throughout its seven songs. Youngs is no perfectionist or studio freak; the record sounds unpolished, even fragmented, with tape hiss and cuts clearly audible. Youngs’ acoustic guitar glistens through the summer heathaze of the pastoral idyll evoked by the track titles: “Haze”, “The Glade and Clean Shade”, “Heart in Open Space”, “Sussex Pond”. His yearning vocals, meanwhile, are multitracked for that disorientating, woozy effect. This is another masterpiece from an artist who seems incapable of making a bad or uninteresting record. Edition of 250 copies on heavy vinyl in full colour thick card sleeve, already sold out at source so happy hunting for this one.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 20, 2011)

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