Jagjaguwar’s website describes Richard Youngs’ Amplifying Host as “wandering the guitar desert somewhere between Ry Cooder‘s Paris, Texas and Neil Young‘s work on Dead Man”. It’s easy to see what they mean, listening to the slowly shifting sands of this strange and occasionally remarkable music.
It also represents something of a return to type for the Glasgow singer, whose last album release Beyond The Valley Of Ultrahits found him focusing on pop music in its purest form, marking three minute songs of grace and beauty with his own, inimitable style in response to a challenge from a friend.
Amplifying Host could hardly be more different. It’s as if Youngs has taken a rebel’s view and returned to a style that sits right at the other end of the musical spectrum. When viewed through the scope of a song such as Too Strong For The Power, a burnt out wreck that wearily crosses the finishing line at 13 minutes, the contrast is sharp indeed.
This song becomes something of a hypnotic mantra, its sheer humidity heavily affecting as it casts the listener under a heavy, almost drug-induced spell. In this time Youngs’ voice, closely harmonised, follows the shifting figurations of his guitar at a snail’s pace, while an off key electric guitar gives commentary in the middle foreground, the music only just moving and threatening to stop at any minute. That it keeps going is a minor miracle, and it makes up a challenging listen taking up as it does a third of the album in one song.
Youngs’ other songs are shorter but no less weighed down, drawing inevitable parallels with John Martyn and Nick Drake in their stateliness. In Tessellations the music is slow, often soporific, adding weird, nocturnal sounds at its outer edges. A Hole In The Earth finds a profound sense of calm in its floated and beautifully controlled vocal lines, often crossing as if by accident with the accompaniment.
The image of dusting sand off the shoes is an irresistible one, evoked by Youngs both through the dry acoustic guitar and the percussion, where cymbals and hi hats rather than bass drum suggest a heat haze. The addition of the electric guitar brings weird apparitions, mirages in the middle of the day.
The ‘guitar desert’, then, is an apt reference. There is very little here in the way of energy, save for the closing song This Is The Music. Elsewhere forward movements take a great effort, as if the recording was made under a massive gravitational pull. World weary and heavily under the influence, it plods forwards, Youngs keeping the tension with the control of his voice.
But keep the tension he does, revealing gradually the burning emotion at the heart of an album that comes across initially as a piece of emotional wreckage. As it turns out, music of surprising intricacy and beauty lies within these canvases, but you’d be well advised to consult your musical doctor before opening up fully to them.