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Richard Youngs / Ilk - The Naïve Shaman / Canticle

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Artist: Richard Youngs / Ilk

Album: The Naïve Shaman / Canticle

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Oct. 15, 2005

Richard Youngs’ music blossoms due to its fundamental contradictions. He is happy to work in countless collaborative formats, but his most important interventions are his solo documents, which he mostly records in his small home in Glasgow. There is something about Youngs’ palette that hints at intimacy (in recorded environment) and restriction (as mother of invention), and his music can sometimes border on the hermetic. Yet at their best, Youngs’ long, gorgeous songs swallow galaxies of sound, cracked shells of hypnotic lyric form that echo with shots of primitive drone and ageless vocal chants.

The Naïve Shaman is another installment in Youngs’ series of solo song albums for the Jagjaguwar label. Youngs often hangs his song cycles around one specific concept, perhaps to further articulate the myriad possibilities within self-imposed limitations, or to test his own song, to see if it will rise above the contours Youngs defines for his projects. The Naïve Shaman sees Youngs shift to the bass guitar as his primary instrument, and turn to digital recording exclusively. Youngs has also recently been playing bass in the Jandek trio and it has been a blast to hear him engaging with a relatively ‘new’ or underused instrument in his armory.

With Jandek he favours circular, illuminating pulses that lock Jandek’s songs into sidereal orbits. You can hear echoes of this approach throughout The Naïve Shaman, particularly in “Solar In My Soul,” where Youngs catches a five-note phrase in an eternal loop, curbing its repetition with fleshy skeins of voice and deft scrawls of electronic noise. Even at its most extended, The Naïve Shaman burbles with electronics, casting Youngs’ constructions in wired settings, as though sparking electric cables and knotted weaves of wires are shearing his songs. However, Youngs’ vocal choruses dominate the record and ultimately define its tenor. The distorted chants that run through “Solar In My Soul” and “Once It Was Autumn,” and the massed reverie of Youngs’ singing in the opening “Life On A Beam” are so temporally displacing they’re like modern versions of Gaelic psalm singing, the deeply affecting church chants that extend simple religious melodies into densely interweaving texts of repetition and alliteration.

Richard Youngs devotes his Ilk project to progressive rock, though you could argue that he strings elements of prog throughout his prodigious discography. The first Ilk CD, released in 1997 on Youngs’ No Fans label, consisted mostly of solo recordings; with Canticle, Andrew Paine joins Youngs. (Paine and Youngs have also recently released a duo album, Mauve Dream, under their own names.) In a recent interview in The Wire Youngs chafed against irony in music: Canticle is many things, but ironic is not one of them, as the project is born of a genuine love of key progressive rock artists of the 1970s. There are many prog elements strewn throughout the record – solemn narration, fragments of freak-outs, spindly and complex phrases buckling under the weight of complex time signatures, myth-strewn lyrics, acoustic interludes drowned in delay and reverb. What is most fascinating about this album is the way Youngs subtly curves his song-writing strategies to fit prog’s arc. As with the debut Ilk album, Canticle’s cumulative power suggests devotional air and elemental forces: beautiful, florid arrangements and ecstatic choruses spill over Youngs’ songs, which are occasionally split in two by piercing guitar leads and keyboard solos.

By Jon Dale

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