The endlessly prolific and unpredictable Richard Youngs returns to Black Truffle with Modern Sorrow. As any Youngs fan knows, one of the great pleasures of following his career comes from not being able to predict what the next entry in his inexhaustible string of releases will bring: Unaccompanied voice? Country songs? Shakuhachi? Guitar pieces played with his feet? Shredding fuzz bass over the top of hyper-speed distorted drum machine beats? Continuing in the grand Youngs tradition of exploring new techniques, instrumentation and approaches while bringing to all of them his idiosyncratic touch, Modern Sorrow serves up two sides of twistedly elegiac, radically stark takes on contemporary pop production.
The side-long title track is built from a piano sample, synthetic bass notes and organ swells, and an iterative blurt that seems to have wandered out of a 90s jungle track. Eventually joined by a shuffling drum machine, the track moves very slowly through a series of chords, each delayed long enough that its arrival comes as a major event. Over the top, Youngs’ heavily pitch-corrected voice is heard. The processing paints his signature wandering melodic improvisations with shades of contemporary R&B; at the same time, it cuts the natural swoops and glides of Youngs’ melodies into rapid microtonal trills, giving his voice a quavering, middle eastern feel. Unfolding languorously over more than 17 minutes, the piece’s final minutes make room for an extended drumless coda, returning to the stark palette of its opening moments.
On the second side, the two parts of ‘Benevolence’ push this minimalism ever further, its first half consisting of nothing more than a remarkably slow drum machine hit, bass-heavy chords and pitch-corrected voice, here so heavily processed that it starts to resemble a shawn solo. In its second part, the harmonic foundation drops out from under the piece while two more voices join; at some moments the voices pause, leaving nothing more than isolated, metronomic drum hits. Though Youngs has explored the sound worlds associated with dance music and contemporary pop in previous work, here these elements are radically reduced, foregrounding a meditative bed of silence with a boldness equal to any more academically inclined contemporary composer. Embracing the accessible digital tools of contemporary music production just as at another moment he would pick up a kazoo, like much of Youngs’ work Modern Sorrow uses simple DIY tools to generous ends, producing formally radical music that remains both free from pretension and deeply moving.
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