Recording information: Glasgow, Scotland (2015).
Photographer: Madeleine Hynes.
Richard Youngs has used Celtic and Anglo-Saxon folk forms as part of his musical arsenal almost from the very beginning. Recordings such as 1998's Sapphie, 2002's May, 2007's Autumn Response, and 2009's Under Stellar Stream are, to varying degrees, illustrations of that tendency. Inside the Future is another collection of sparsely adorned original songs that explore those traditions, but it is also a confrontation with them. Youngs has expressed dissatisfaction with the term "folk" as synonymous with music that displays "a certain kind of virtuoso faux storytelling." Over ten short tunes here, the songwriter subverts this notion. The title track commences with two fingerpicked guitars playing harmonic counterpoint. The lead vocals offer an elliptical first-person narrative with an incantatory backing chant. The melody is attractive but minimal, the tale elusive but beguiling. It begs the listener to fill in the vast blank spaces between voice and accompaniment. "Revolution of Signs" employs two 12-strings -- one playing a pulsing bassline on the changes -- in what resembles a sea shanty with romantic hints and feints woven through the lyric. "Enough Vexation" is almost a folk-blues. Youngs delivers his lines in alternate channels. The repetitive "backing vocal" is mixed at the same level as the lead. In the middle, a two-voice chorus repeats the title at the backing vocal before a zither solo (played by son Sorley Youngs) claims the center stage, making the singers the accompaniment. "Mind Waltz" is a perversely humorous anthem of resistance. It is musically illustrated with a hi-hat cymbal, whistling, finger-plucked chords, and a bassline -- all played on nylon-string guitars. Youngs' vocal recalls Robert Wyatt's in phrasing, and in its related poignant absurdities. His lyric offers direction and misdirection in linguistic multivalents: "They're surprising/These great fugue moments/I can hear on the radio/You know people cannot belong/People should be done with ideas/It'll keep that man happy/Their tones of volume/Boring heroes/Give me more visions indoors...." "Clarity" is perhaps the loveliest thing here. Separately channeled guitars offer contrasting melodic statements, making the strange, bracing, seductive, lyric poetry a bridge between musical tensions. The mournful "Retrace" carries the set out. Youngs' lone, unadorned voice, buoyed by a single guitar, delivers the unanswered question "Did you fear what was ahead?" as its final lyric. The songs on Inside the Future relate narratives in first- and third-person accounts, though not as "idyllic" tales. Memory in this writer's world is porous, not fixed; he's not offering stories for the ages but for right now. Opinions and exhortations are direct, often related as fragmented assemblages of recognizable language that suggest and opine rather than dictate. Provocative for its imagination, compelling in its gentleness, and bracing in its restraint and musicality, Inside the Future is Youngs at his very best. ~ Thom Jurek