Richard Youngs

River Through Howling Sky

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Glaswegian Richard Youngs has been on a jag the past few years, creating a new kind of singer/songwriter music that draws on -- instead of relying on -- tight, close-ended compositions about specific themes, or even songwriting tropes at all. Evidenced by Making Paper and May, Youngs broke down to their barest essentials the tools of the songwriters' trade to just stark acoustic guitar and pianos, and created vast landscapes where form was pliable and, in some cases, nearly non-existent, and content was free to roam the inner vista of a particular composition. On 2003's brilliant Airs of the Ear, Youngs brought the electric guitar into the mix, as well as numerous found sounds and effects, as a way of creating and releasing tensions inside his songscapes, and as a device for setting them with near visual landmarks as they meandered and crawled their way through a listener's consciousness. On River Through Howling Sky, Youngs goes even further afield in much the same way Scott Walker did with Tilt. There are only four tracks on this outing. And the electric guitar becomes a way of dislocating the notion of song inside itself, so what comes to the listener are the braided fragments of song not as a construction, but as a discourse from which a construction might eventually emerge. This is most effective in the gorgeous opener "Fountains of Light," and in "Sky Is Upon You," where poetic and aesthetic become the means of travel through an interior world which has no signposts, and no checkpoints, but nonetheless retain the air of the familiar -- as if you had once heard something "like" the various elements that make up these pieces. On the final track, "Red Cloud Singular," Youngs offers up the only place where repetition is given a foundation, and the acoustic guitar is given free reign over the lyric body of the tune: the effect is strained through to the breaking point at nearly 25 minutes. Inside this stark, spacious place is a kind of claustrophobia and silence that is nearly unbearable, and would be were it not so beautiful and deeply moving in its honesty and single-pointed focus to extract song from its various trappings at all costs. This is Youngs' most musically adventurous -- some would say reckless -- emotionally moving and sonically harrowing outing to date. It is also his finest offering yet.

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