Scottish composer and songwriter Richard Youngs has recorded all kinds of albums since 1990. Some have been solo efforts full of elliptical songs and poems; others have been sprawling extended compositions; some have been collaborations, while most have been entirely solo efforts where the composer plays everything. Youngs is one of the most quizzical, wildly adventurous, and mercurial artists on the independent scene and continues to be one. His recordings can be difficult to listen to the first time through, as they give up their secrets slowly and reveal the labyrinthine journeys one clue at a time. Others are deceptively simple; from mysterious interior monologues to magical ruminations on nature in the cosmos and in the human heart, as well as the landscapes he encounters.
Under Stellar Stream is one of the latter. Clocking in at just over 27 minutes, these six songs are created from the most minimal of melodies played on bass, organ, harmonica, minimal percussion, piano, synth, and of course, his beautiful if unconventional singing voice. On "Broke Up by Night," the set's opening cut, a pump organ and a minimal synth offer all the support he needs. Youngs half sings as if he were a lone sailor far from home, and half as if he were a chanting, druidic priest revealing his memory and wonder at the hidden meaning of all that is in front of him: "Climbin' the stone steps/the albatross returnin'/And all the energy/of trails in the blue sky/And I am rememberin' now/Waiting the time itself/And I am rememberin' now/the value of sleep/And I'm staring through an open window/Creating fire with my sight..." The gentleness and minimal mix, with his voice in the forefront, is gentle, but there is no mistaking its power. On "Cluster to a Star," the sounds of bells, organ, and minimal effects accompany his chant-like repetition, bringing the listener even more deeply into the intimate yet expansive universe he observes, and indeed becomes an inseparable part of. "Arise Arise," with its slightly out of tune piano and the smallest kiss of reverb, is an anthemic poem that recalls the pre-Christian Celtic world, but is presented almost as a prayer An organ drifts mysteriously in the background, and Youngs, in his incantatory way, exhorts the listeners and himself to become part of the elements themselves. The track "My Mind Is in Garland" is simply indescribably beautiful in lyric and melody.
Certainly, this recording isn't for everybody (though Eyeless in Gaza fans will flip for it), but that's not because of its quality. It's startling in its use of space, in its tenderness, and in its authority, as it not only observes unseen worlds, but melds that vision with all that is plainly seen in the physical realm. The song structures, as minimal and repetitive as they are, bring the listener into his songs fully; they are easy to inhabit, easy to take on, and profound in their simplicity. This is the most compelling recording Youngs has cut since 2004's River Through Howling Sky, though it doesn't resemble it a bit, and is, in its way, considerably more beautiful, unquestionably more accessible, and equally as magical.