Awe-inspiring sedated slowcore meditations from prolific British underground legend Richard Youngs. Using trombone, organesque sine waves, a snare drum, and vocals, Youngs conducts an atmosphere that straddles the tranquil midnight chime of Bohren & der Club of Gore, Low, Alice Coltrane, Andrew Chalk or Black Truffle boss Oren Ambarchi. Monumental material, honestly - one of the must-hear albums of 2021.
‘CXXI' is Youngs' 121st album, and also the number of chord changes on 'Tokyo Photograph', the record's funereal opening rumination. Since the 1980s, Youngs has been a reliable presence on the British outsider circuit, licking thru pastoral folk, abstract drone, free improv and dense psychedelia while maintaining a level of quality that's seen him hoisted to exalted status. Only earlier this year, Jagjaguwar celebrated Youngs' 1998 album "Sapphie" with a 25th anniversary cover album that featured sparkling nu versions from Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, with Moses Sumney, Perfume Genius and Sharon Van Etten.
But ‘CXXI' is a markedly contrasting proposition. It's a conceptual piece that employs a randomly generated set of minor chords, played by sine waves and spiked with a brushed snare on every change. Over this backbone, Youngs fleshes out a genderless body using wordless notes and expressive abstract electronics, fading in Yorkshire DIY mainstay Sophie Cooper's tape-damaged trombone tones. His resulting Vitruvian form is potent, purposed and proportioned in a manner that's only truly apprehensible after chewing over disparate artistic ideas and practices until the flavor has been completely vaporized - committed to memory for eternity.
There's a stylistic link to the Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise's 'Sycamore Trees' or the lounge jazz mutations of beloved German outfit Bohren & der Club of Gore, but sans any flourishes that would lead you towards the doom canon. Similarly, it feels lashed to Alice Coltrane's masterfully-paced meditation "Turiya Sings" (especially this year's controversial minimalist reissue) and Oren Ambarchi's breakout Touch-released opus "Grapes From the Estate". But Youngs sounds as if he's out on an island all of his own, etching his modest epics with a yawning knowledge of the wider world, but not with the expectation of reverence or relevance.
Really we can't get over how affecting ‘CXXI' is; it's a simple idea that's been executed with such skill and artistry that we're charmed all over again with every subsequent listen. It's classic minimalism, haunted jazz, low-key ambient, inebriated drone and none of this mess simultaneously. Youngs has sculpted an album that's like Michaelangelo's marbles: on the surface it looks almost simple, but that simplicity is deceptive, captivating and unforgettable. There's no doubt in our minds that it's one of the best of his career, and certainly among the best we've heard in 2021.