Richard Youngs – Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits (Sonic Oyster) CDR
Richard Youngs is surely one the United Kingdom’s most under-appreciated musical artists. Even appearing on the front cover of The Wire magazine a few years back didn’t seem to boost his profile all that much.
Youngs’ music ranges the gamut from acoustic singer-songwriter rock to no-holds-barred free-form noise. Whatever mode he’s working in though, Youngs always gives something fundamentally uplifting to whatever listeners he may have.
Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits is hardly the most significant entry in his sizeable discography. A CDR released in a tiny run, …Ultrahits was apparently recorded as a goof, when a friend dared Youngs to record a straightforward pop album.
Youngs took the dare but the results give the impression he didn’t take it too seriously. This is a distinctly imperfect album that sounds like it was recorded very, very quickly indeed. The electronic backings are rather generic, the songs are mostly quite rudimentary and the vocal harmonies are often shaky.
But there are more serious problems with …Ultrahits. Firstly, it’s slightly disturbing that this is Richard Youngs’ idea of a straightforward pop album. In fact, it’s not really a pop album at all – it’s a quirky indie rock album. Has indie rock achieved such cultural hegemony that even an artist of Youngs’ range can’t see past it?
Perhaps, though, what we really have here is just another Richard Youngs album. That’s a problem too – his folky tones and sincerely mystical lyrics just don’t sound right over faux-R&B beats. Real pop stars simply don’t write vegan cookbooks, do they?
Having said all this, the wrongness of ...Ultrahits – it’s awkward, ragged imperfection – is also the album’s charm; its saving grace. If you can get past your preconceptions about what Youngs was supposed to achieve, the results are actually quite beguiling. And many of the songs are simply beautiful.
“A Storm of Light Ignites My Heart” is a particularly lovely anthem to the night sky. The shuffling back-beat might seem a little uncharacteristic but don’t be fooled – this is Youngs at his ecstatic best. “Collapsing Stars” is great too. Based around a naggingly familiar sample loop (Lali Puna? Pluramon?), it’s lilting folk-song melody is totally at odds with the concept of the album but utterly perfect for Youngs’ voice.
So, out of all this imperfection, all this wrongness, comes one of 2009’s most winning albums. Sadly, as a limited run CDR, Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits is – by all accounts – waaay out of print.