William Doyle, formerly known as East India Youth invents something new every time. We’re talking about a young man (born in 1991, not even thirty years old…) who – after two records acclaimed by critics and audiences (“Total Strife Forever” in 2014 and “Culture of Volume” in 2015) – decided, with a gesture that was nothing short of self-defeating, to abandon the moniker that had made him famous, reappropriating his own name and – to complete the work of misdirection – changing his style completely.
And so, in 2019, after three more instrumental and self-produced records, suspended between the most rarefied ambient and the freest Avant, he released “Your Wilderness Revisited”, an excellent work in which he embraced a classicism of beautiful forms and careful calligraphy, which enriched a certain English canon: lunar melodies, Canterbury passages, synthesizers between Sheffield and Richard Barbieri and, finally, guitars and saxophones in the manner of Bowie & Fripp.
Despite the beauty of the record and the participation of a figure of the caliber of Brian Eno, not many people noticed the work.
William Doyle’s fourth record also has a story to tell, if you want to fully understand its nature. During the production process, the hard disk of the computer on which Doyle was recording failed and he lost all his data, recovering only parts that he had transferred to an analogue tape in order to continue editing the sound. William took this as a sign of destiny and, rather than start again with the usual painstaking care, decided to accept the case, giving up the work of refinement and chiselling and releasing a more “immediate version of the record”. “Great Spans of Muddy Time” (released by Tough Love Records on 19 March) is not a rough mix, though it’s a well-crafted work that’s also quite layered, but it’s certainly an album that seems to want to sabotage the classicism that had just been achieved with “Your Wildness Revisited”.
Don’t be fooled by the two singles (beautiful, round, simply perfect) that preceded the release of the album, namely “And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright)” (a Bowie-esque ballad with an impersonal White Duke chorus) and “Nothing At All” (pure, soulful, melodic elevation dragged along by fluttering keyboards and strings that are exquisitely over the top). In fact, this is not a work focused on songs, but rather an album in which the musician from Dorset implements a whole series of digressions and disturbances with amusing glimpses of pop genius, but only to crumple it up,to throw it away and to look elsewhere. From this point of view the third and final extract called to anticipate the release of the disc is emblematic: an Avant ballad (“Semi-bionic”) in which the ripples of noise just seem to want to sabotage subliminally the beauty, getting in return “a new form of beauty”, not unlike what they did some pop misfits like Momus.
Of course, in doing so Doyle risks once again to displease everyone: the disappointed ones who had not forgiven him the abandonment of the post-rave rhythms of East India Youth, could now be joined by those who expected a follow-up to “Your Wilderness Revisited”.
With “Great Spans of Muddy Time” we find ourselves in the middle of the ford, in a border zone between finiteness and indefiniteness, between artistic completion and sketch on the canvas: forced by events, Doyle has decided with a perfect “oblique strategy” to lift the curtain, leaving erasures and drafts in the foreground, next to the finished forms of some (sublime) songs.
We could get away with saying that this is another transitional record, except that this umpteenth shift in focus suggests that, in the end, it is restlessness that will represent the artist’s true identity.
Divided between songs and instrumental sketches, the album ascribes to the first category (in addition to the three singles) the opening track “I Need To Keep You In My Life”, entrusted to a delicate synth arpeggio and a voice that gets lost in the sound environment; “Somewhere Totally Else”, with its toy drums, organ lines and vocal phrasing, is a bit like Robert Wyatt‘s “Rock Bottom”; then we have “Who Cares” in which cascades of notes crash together like HD crystals, while a rarefied voice seems carried away by the wind.
The voice becomes hieratic and communicates an ecstatic rapture in “Rainfalls” and then it stretches out on the sparkling notes of “St. Giles’ Hill” and becomes “honey” in the falsetto pushed up by the synths of “Theme from Muddy Time”.
As for the instrumental tracks, we would like to point out the glacial gusts of synth that verge on aseptic noise in “Shadowtackling”, the Bowian landscapes that recall those of “Low” in “New Uncertainties”, but above all the trembling synths and the crescendo of “A Forgotten Film” which, as the title suggests, aims to provide the perfect soundtrack for a film that was never made (just as mentor Brian Eno tried to do some thirty years ago, embarking his Dublin protégés as Passengers).
The album ends with the last landscape sketched out between rhythmic loops and angelic keyboard flights of “[a sea of thoughts behind it]”, sealing the work of a wandering musician with a precious talent, which we hope will never find its way home.