RICHARD YOUNGS Summer Wanderer (Gipsy Sphinx)
Glasgow-based musician Richard Youngs has a collaborative work ethic that makes Stereolab look like The Blue Nile. He’s been spitting out limited edition releases on his own label since 1990, his closest brushes with fame arguably being a Low support slot and a stint as Jandek’s live bassist.
“Summer Wanderer” is an entirely acapella album, originally released as a CDR edition of between 10 and 20 copies given away to friends by the artist, then as a commercial edition of unknown quantity, and now as a vinyl pressing: my copy is numbered 82/525. Its three songs vary in duration between five and 23 minutes, and its plain white cardboard sleeve has the monochrome cover artwork pasted onto it. It seems to exist entirely outside the music industry – never mind a barcode, this album doesn’t even seem to have a catalogue number!
Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Summer Wanderer” sounds like no other album I own. Never mind flaunting an inability to play your instruments; what could be more punk than not using any instruments at all? It’s a real workers-seizing-the-means-of-production approach. Of course, this shifts the burden of carrying an entire album onto Youngs’ “words, music and voice” (as he credits himself), and he’d have to be pretty confident in his abilities to do so. Yet he successfully holds the attention throughout, through long, flowing melodic lines and mantric repetition, creating a totally unique sonic experience. Maybe a bit intense for everyday listening, it could be described as part folk, part jazz, part progressive rock, but equally it’s just the unadorned sound of somebody singing alone in a room. Perhaps understandably, there’s no lyric sheet included – it might cause all the album’s charms to unravel like the emperor’s new clothes if you could just read the songs from beginning to end – but the words seem inspired by the rise and fall of geography, geology and the seasons, although, in this context, it seems almost as though after a while they shed meaning and become pure sound.