IF YOU like your singer-songwriting meaningful, deep, exploratory – in short if Daniel Blumberg, Richard Dawson, Jad Fair, David Thomas Broughton et al spin your dial – then the news that two of the British leftfield’s scions, Daniel O’Sullivan and Richard Youngs, have got together to fuse their thinking and have announced a debut collaborative album, Twelve of Hearts, due out on Tim Burgess’s O Genesis on December 1st, will be glad winter tidings.
This first fusing of two intriguing musical minds proceeded with some very specific creative rules – a manifesto, no less: Each song has four chords. No more. No less. They cycle without variation. They never change key.
As Youngs sings on one of the tracks on Twelve of Hearts, “Oblivion Riviera”, this is “the glittering formula”.
The music on the album is drawn from a palette including piano, tape machines, guitars, reeds, strings, metal sheet and computer.
Daniel explains: “The writing process had a geometric quality. Not too much fuss. Just a simple adherence to this method.
“It’s basically a grid-like structure – concrete pillars in square formation, consonant and unbending and always in a supporting role to these liquified poems and suspended songs. It’s hard and soft at the same time.”
Watch the video for the first track to be taken from the album, “Don’t Hang with Angels” below. You’ll find a lovely if portentous and alienated tune proceeding on an almost doo-wop chant, a big thrum of a kick-drum, lyrics from an outsider, detached, our protagonist literally armoured against the world: “I don’t look in mirrors / Don’t know what I’ll see / I just take photographs / Looking out from me.”
The album was painstakingly put together over several months – O’Sullivan in London, Youngs in Glasgow – and follows that formula strictly. The result is a cycle of 12 songs based on one chord progression.
Richard details the process: “We did all of the album remotely. It started when Daniel sent me a sprawling improvisation and there was a short section crying out for these four chords.
“Before we could help ourselves, we had stumbled on the formula – something that seemed to take us from song to song. The same four chords, harmony vocals, some ornamentation, and a lead vocal.
“We became really focused on it – anything that deviated got rejected. Finding variation in the predictability became quite surprising. I think it shifted some of my ideas on songwriting.”
Tim Burgess’s O Genesis has previously hosted a brace of Daniel O’Sullivan solo outings, Veld (2017) and Folly (2019); and Richard Youngs’ 2018 album, Belief.
Daniel O’Sullivan and Richard Youngs’ Twelve of Hearts will be released by O Genesis on December 1st on digital download and extremely limited (500 only) poinsettia red vinyl. You can pre-order yours here.