Thursday, 13 May 2010
The Quietus Review: Robot
Thanks to Scott McKeating for this review recently posted in 'The Quietus':
For such a near-mythic (and allegedly reclusive figure), Richard Youngs still manages to be a very busy man. From the mid 80s onwards he's played a pivotal role in the diy/experimental underground moving between exploratory improvisation, drone, gorgeous songscapes and post-pop pieces. Having long since graduated from the legendary A Band collective, Youngs is known as both a solo artist and a discerning, but keen, collaborator via his releases with Skullflower's Matthew Bower and drummer-in-demand Alex Neilson.
Robot is Youngs' twentieth collaboration with fellow Glasgow based musician Andrew Paine since 2005 (not including their well-received prog rock project Ilk), and it's one of their most instant and unusual so far. To those unfamiliar with the workings of the diy experimental underground, 20 might sound like an insane amount of music. Where other improvisatory-sourced acts, for example the harsher, bleaker but very prolific Wolf Eyes, releases can be read as a kind of documentary process, Youngs and Paine seem to treat each release like a mini project of sorts – an idea investigated.
In essence, Robot is a concept release created using Brian Eno's infamous oblique strategy card system and a further exploration into the duo's chemistry. For a pairing that's been so effective with the ideas of musical improvisation within a small dose of self-imposed direction, their choice of Eno's concept/direction of random selected choices/instructions on Robot might seem a little peculiar. Usually employed in aiding over-emotive stadium rock acts that have hit the skids break the shackles of their own success, Youngs and Paine have adopted this system for Robot more in the spirit of playful exploration.
While the duo are more familiar playing at the left-hand edge of something akin to post-world/post-structure music, the five pieces here are moving beyond even those already hazy limits. Taking in disassociated spoken word, hollow-legged Kosmische, the musical 'summing-up' of landscapes in endless melody lines and more than a dash of prog-rock's audio dalliances, Robot seems to have pushed the pair beyond improv – if such a thing can actually happen. Where improv is often seen as an anything goes environment, it still has the constraint of what a particular artist is comfortable and the added bonus of treading hitherto unexplored paths. The nature of integrating the unknown into this project's working method has undoubtedly pushed the duo into new territory.
Paine and Youngs may have dabbled in synth-work previously but there has never been anything as joyously weird as the classic Acid Techno of 'Bad Shark'. Thanks to The South Bank Show's footage of plastic-bed sheet stadium behemoths playing dreadful sub world music grooves, the oblique strategy series is more of an amusing idea than a system that's produced a massive amount of great music for anyone other than Eno himself. Where many would flounder at directions like commands like "Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them", Youngs and Paine have adapted perfectly to these leaps into the dark.