Back in 2010, the Glasgow based experimental musician Richard Youngs released the album 'Beyond The Valley of The Ultrahits', the product of a friend's dare to make "a proper pop album." Up to that point, Youngs' career had pursued the outer margins of popular music. His 1990 debut 'Advent' was minimalism at its purest, built around a recurring piano motif which was then highjacked by feral free improvising on both the electric guitar and Oboe. He would also become folk troubadour, atonal noisemaker, electronic meddler; but it wasn't really until that 2010 release where he could adequately be described as a pop artist - at least in the sense of Brian Eno circa 'Another Green World'.
On his latest album 'Belief', Youngs perhaps outdoes the remarkable sound that he coalesced on 'Beyond The Valley Of The Ultrahits', a radically modern, DIY interpretation of the chamber song. As well as owing to the form of the pop song on 'Belief', Youngs' equally belongs to a very British lineage of home-brewed, kitchen sink psychedelia. This is not the full throttle, head splicing psychedelics of say, Brainticket on their 1971 masterpiece 'Cottonwoodhill', it's far more rooted in the commonplace - but a commonplace looked upon through a heightened, lysergic lens. The pastoral prog of early Robert Wyatt is wholly relevant, though also the DIY tamperings of Flaming Tunes, Pram or Daniel Patrick Quinn.
It seems only natural then that 'Belief' should be coming out via Tim Burgess' O Genesis label, it being the home of Grumbling Fur member Daniel O'Sullivan's equally home brewed solo psychedelics. O'Sullivan was also the person who passed on Belief to a "bowled over" Tim Burgess, who gushingly classified the album as "sublime gnostic pop."
Opener 'My Own 21st Century' sounds like an entire galaxy viewed from the window of a garden shed, great lumbering chords sat by sputtering beats on Young's rudimentary drum machine. As a song, it's equal parts cosmic and humdrum, in keeping with that kitchen sink, psychedelic spirit. Both 'Bewilderment' and 'Nebulosity' are warped ballads of sorts, with Youngs specifying the latter songs aim "is about finding my way. Although the lyric declares "no time for faith" it is a song of self-belief." The whole album seems concerned with themes of self-reconciliation, an internal work, which, when it does refer to the outer world, is largely about Youngs' own place within it.
As an artist, Youngs has a history of self-depreciation, notoriously calling his own label No Fans Records. The inception of 'Belief' comes from a similar mindset, originally intended as an art project, where he would send the album to various major record labels and make a creative use of their rejection letters. Though humorous - and somewhat accurate, given his relative obscurity after releasing roughly 140 albums - the depreciation should in no way be directed towards the work itself.
'Belief' is a truly remarkable record; hermetic and idiosyncratic, the work of a stubborn maverick pursuing his own lone path.
Words: Eden Tizard
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