Richard Youngs

Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits

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In his 20-plus year recording career, composer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Youngs has covered much ground: he's written and recorded wildly different takes on Scottish folk music (Sapphie) and (Airs of the Ear), primal, open-ended sonic architectures on the brilliant River Through Howling Sky, the near-microtonal drone songs of Under Stellar Stream, the deeply conceptual avant songs on Advent, and a near-psychedelic reflection on electro with Like a Neuron. He's also collaborated artist as disparate as Simon Wickham-Smith, Kawabata Makoto, and Jandek. Few, however, expected him to try his hand at making a "pop" album. Nonetheless, Beyond the Valley of the Ultrahits is just that -- or at least his vision of what "pop" is. Done on a dare and released as a limited CD-R on Sonic Oyster Records, it's been reissued on LP with a digital download coupon by Jagjaguwar. For those worrying about Youngs giving up his individuality for a lark, relax. Youngs' compositional, ever forward "voice" is utterly ingrained in these ten highly textured -- somewhat -- conventionally melodic, and rhythmically standard (2/4 and 4/4) tunes. Using synths, sequencers, drum machines, guitars, basses, and multi-tracked vocals, Youngs plays, programs, and sings everything here. On "Like a Sailor," with its gently propulsive sequencers, jittery electronics, and watery sampled atmospheric sounds, Youngs' tender, lilting vocals remind one of Robert Wyatt, though they're slightly more robust. "Collapsing Stars," with its multi- layered vocals, synths, strings, and a stinging guitar solo is the most beautiful and visceral cut here; his melody touches on early New Order and mid-period Talk Talk. "Radio Innocents," which is much denser, sonically reflects latter-era Depeche Mode as it meditates on forgiveness and memory in a perceived endlessly resonant space-time continuum. There is a folk melody at the tune's heart -- and another fine electric guitar solo -- that reminds the listener this is Youngs version on pop, rather than pop itself. The final selection, "Sun Points at the World," with blippy electronics, a two-note bassline, and a skeletal melody is a gorgeously atmospheric romance in less than four minutes, with Youngs channeling Mark Hollis on the vocal. Beyond the Valley of the Ultrahits is an accurately titled collection that extends Youngs reach as a writer, composer, and conceptualist without concession, kitsch, or irony. It is as hauntingly beautiful as anything he's done, while simultaneously being more "accessible."

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