Modern Sorrow: quiet minimalist electronic experimentation yields deep emotion and longing

Richard Youngs, Modern Sorrow, Australia, Black Truffle, BT101 vinyl LP (2023)

English experimental folk / electronica musician Richard Youngs probably needs no introduction from me as he’s been a very prolific recording artist either on his own or in collaboration with various other musicians since his first release in 1990. Let’s cut straight to the chase then with his most recent album “Modern Sorrow” on Oren Ambarchi’s Black Truffle label: a work of very elegiac if rather eccentric minimalist experimentation using drum machine, sampled piano loops and Youngs’s pitch-corrected vocalisations. The album may be unassuming in its austere presentation but in its very ingenuous simplicity, the emotion runs deep and can be surprisingly complex.

The title track starts from a repeating piano melody sample and background bass and organ droning ambience, over which blats of noise jerk in quick succession and then lapse, only to start up again. A drum machine then takes up the rhythm over the piano loops and Youngs’s voice begins keening in a way reminiscent of Middle Eastern melismatic singing. The mood of the track is very soulful and a yearning quality is present. The entire track unfolds for 17 minutes in this way, either holding you spellbound with intimations of sadness and longing or irritating you with its insistent repetition. There’s no middle ground here! In its last few moments, the drum machine dies away, the blats of noise return over the piano loops and the droning background ambience makes its mystery presence known again.

“Benevolence I + II” is even more minimalist and sombre in its slow drum machine pace and rhythms, droning bass presence and slow piano accompaniment making the entire work sound like a melancholy and slightly sinister atmospheric jazz piece. Again this is a very slow and repetitive piece, and you either love it for its immersive, atmospheric and emotional quality or you hate it for its extreme repetition. In its final moments, the track yields a forlorn yearning in its dejected beats and increasingly fragmented vocal calls.

I must say I found both tracks enthralling and very moving in their own sparse minimalist ways, but I can appreciate they may not be to everyone’s taste, even though they come from a position refreshingly shorn of formal academic pretension. There is a lot of repetition and you need to listen quite deeply to the music on its own terms.