Richard Youngs: Sapphie, Making Paper

Two remarkable albums from a genuinely unsung hero. Youngs has collaborated with Brian Lavelle, Simon Wickham Smith and Acid Mothers Temple’s Makoto Kawabata. On these two CDs, however, he shows himself to be a singer of rare sensitivity in his own right, his distinctive voice arcing and swelling to perfection around baroque solo guitar and piano.

Sapphie is a reissue of a 1998 release on which Youngs sings and plays classical guitar. It’s apparently an elegy for his dead dog, although you’d be hard pressed to tell this from the lyrics, many of which are indecipherable due to Youngs’ unusual, almost strangled vocal style. Like the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser or the early Michael Stipe, Youngs intimates through loose, partly formed phrasing that he has found himself at the centre of a complex personal cosmology. The phrases that emerge and form the titles of the songs – ‘Soon It Will Be Fire’, ‘A Fullness of Light in Your Soul’, ‘The Graze of Days’ – reverberate with private significance. On these three long pieces, Youngs sings in tender howls of rage, while his guitar issues forth sublime arpeggios and cadences.

Making Paper is even more opaque and recondite, but no less compelling. The basic template is similar, but on this album Youngs plays piano. His vocal outpourings take on an increasingly unearthly form on the 22-minute ‘Only Haligonian’, the words tumbling and sliding in counterpoint to the ornate structures delineated by the instrument. The equally epic ‘Warriors’ is dark with foreboding, its skeletal text warning of battle and slaughter; while ‘The World Is Silence In Your Head’ provides a calm, much needed interlude.

These recordings occupy a strange territory between avant rock, folk and classical musics. Together they form a serious and profound body of work, daring in conception and immaculate in execution.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 10, 2002)