(Wayside & Woodland)
As many musicians fret, vacillate and self-medicate their way out of actually writing their next record, Richard Youngs just gets on with it. The Scotland-based singer-songwriter, operating since the early 90s, has released 17 albums in the last two years alone (not including collaborations such as the brilliant Scottish disco supergroup Amor) and has three more out this month, with Memory Ain’t No Decay joined soon by Onder/Stroom, a collaboration with Dutch electronic producers Frans de Waard and Peter Johan Nÿland, and another solo album, Dissident. His quavering yet strident voice is a bright silver thread through British music; his singing style, somewhere between conversation and benediction, recalls everything from sea shanties to Gaelic psalm singing, Mark E Smith to the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan. The neatest description of him probably comes in the title of his 2005 album The Naive Shaman.
Memory Ain’t No Decay’s three songs begin with the 15-minute stunner Edge of Everywhere. A blues guitar scratches rhythmically under a softer, echo-treated electric line, a combination that would be almost Balearic if it didn’t keep tripping up and going out of time – a technique that keeps the song constantly alive and alert. Youngs gives it one of his more spiritual vocal lines, even slightly reminiscent of devotional Punjabi singing. Still Learning is powered by a strummed guitar line that scans as generic on first listen, but extended over 11 minutes, its campfire familiarity becomes lulling, even meditative, topped with a kindly song from Youngs. The shorter Not My Eyes has an uncertain mass of bass tones and fingerpicking held together by steady plucking. Charged by Wayside & Woodland’s label head to consider the voguish psychogeographical concept of “edgelands” – spaces between the urban and rural – it would have been easy for Youngs to lapse into bland wonderment, but he ends up affirming that nature is both beautiful and impulsive.