Richard Youngs - "Tessellations" (Amplifying Host)
Richard Youngs has dipped his toes in many puddles, but biology was not on my list of expected indulgences. But there it is, writ large in the title of his latest song cycle, Amplifying Host. It’d be stretching metaphors to bridge some relationship between parasitism and Youngs’s songwriting, though there is certainly something oddly compulsive in the way his Jagjaguwar albums circle around a singular idea. More relevant is the grace with which he essays each record — think instead of birds carving the air in synchronized flocks.
On Amplifying Host, Youngs returns to the bleary-eyed blues forms he first explored on River Through Howling Sky. Much like that album, Amplifying Host is a slow reveal, its surface yielding only after you’ve skated across it many times. What you find in those depths, once you’ve cracked the ice, is a kind of uncertain resignation, a tension that’s palpable even in its quietest moments. Youngs is often pensive, but here he resolutely skirts resolution, with each iteration of a phrase or chord sequence eating its own tail, Ouroboros-like, such that you’re held suspended through the entire record. It’s an oddly breathless experience: enwombed by the cradle of sound Youngs weaves from acoustic guitar, slide, depthless bass, shakuhachi, and Damon Krukowski’s preternaturally sympathetic drums, you’re nonetheless caught in a loop of uncertainty.
But in the closing “This Is The Music,” Youngs breaks cover to sing, “This is the sunshine of generations / This is the music of exaltation / This is the time of fulfillment.” It’s an odd declaration for a record whose overarching mood is one of wintry reflection. If I’ve sounded unconvinced by Amplifying Host, that’s not at all the case — this is Youngs close to his best. But it’s “close to his best” partly because it’s deceptively hard to figure out. What he’s doing here, I’m still not entirely sure of. But it’s a great, moving set of songs from one of the few modern songwriters to actively challenge his own preconceptions of his art.