Tuesday, 21 January 2014

East India Youth - Total Strife Forever


Musicians from a rock-orientated background whom attempt electronics often end up producing a wide spectrum of results. The better outputs of course vary from the likes of Deerhunter's Lockett Pundt under his dreamy Lotus Plaza alias to the likes of Radiohead's Thom Yorke trying his hand at a solo record built (more or less) around raw electronics. While William Doyle's former indie background in Doyle & The Fourfathers was by no means a success story on the overall rock circuit, it at least gave the UK musician the push to venture further into electronic music as a means to convey matters such as emotion and context, let alone tone and melody. It would be foolish to make out the reading of Doyle's debut as East India Youth, Total Strife Forever, named in canny similarity to the Foals LP, as a unique viewing. Which major [British] publication hasn't picked up on that? Name resemblance aside, one of the stand-out look-into's visually on Doyle's debut is the apparent grotesque and desaturated appearance of his portrait that makes up the album's cover sleeve. More Francis Bacon than Pablo Picasso in its skewing sure, but there's an intriguing warping of reality EIY seems to divulge in - emphasised perhaps by the seemingly disorderly arranging of white rectangles that in fact, for those interested in composing, would raise their arm and note this as being far less abstract than intended; a reference to notes laid out on a computer MIDI sequencer.

As a result, Doyle's music carries a discoverable, adventurous flair to it; a noting of the Englishman's perhaps lesser knowledge of the field, but no less a fascination with what makes the genre so awe-inspiring and, potentially, so fantastical in its illustration. Glitter Recession starts off, fittingly, with synthesizers that shimmer and shine as opposed to pulsatating, with rhythm and a sense of earthly energy. Not for the first time on this album as we later discover, but already EIY's distinct focus on repeated phrasing and repetition becomes the focal point into which the track's swirling mix of crinkle-cut electronics and dank piano chords eventually come to rest. There's a shrouded vibe to the music; the vastness and breadth to its layers increasing, but feeling less like open ground and more an enclosed cavern in contrast. But it's on the self-titled tetraology of compositions that sees Doyle at his most ambitious spatially as well as sonically - the first piece signalling a vested interest in the dual nature of electronics as both a narrative, but also perhaps the antagonistic embodiment existing within such narraton. At its pinnacle, the track lauds its listener with a cinematic stretch of tone and beat arrangement - the shuffling, static texture in the midst of all this, growing and decreasing at differing intervals, emphasising the sinister surrealism and other-Worldly wonder Doyle intently directs us towards. If there's one slight criticism to this directness to address, it's that the push towards earth-moving tones does come at a cost to evolving the piece past its initial handful of arrangements that merely repeat albeit through slightly masqueraded variations in effect.
 

It's not just soundscaping that Doyle relies on in being the driving force in his sound, as is the case with the vocally-led (the first of what is only a handful of tracks Doyle provides vocals to) Dripping Down. And even with Doyle casting a distinctly nasally echo over the mountainous chill of his words - 'You may be moving in glacial paces, but you're not melting'; his delivery reminiscent of the likes of Brian Molko of Placebo or Brett Anderson of Suede, if not the same intensity certainly of a similar range or quality - the slightly translucent, glass-frosted clarity to both himself as well as the instrumentation, creates an interesting dynamic from what has come before. But more-so, individually, Doyle's front-man showmanship comes to true prominence: the passage of percussion-led verses; the ascending harmonics in-between; the lofty release of synth pop-esque instrumentation, all of it is carried forth pristinely by Doyle's easing between singular leadership and harmonic resonance. But it's with Hinterland where Doyle's new-found skills as a composer/arranger truly come into full force. Once again we are at contrast; the electronics here are relatively simple, prehistoric even given their bumbling, analogous, repetitiveness. Yet, as Doyle introduces more atmospheric layers and begins to treat his beats with scrutinising, but considerate ease, the eventual climax of pulsating (harsher) loops and heavier-handed drumbeats is one of visual shock, but more impressively, more than able to get a few heads bobbing.

Perhaps the greatest quality to Doyle's work ethic is that even with the electronics giving off a relatively simplified and minimal expression - simple to the point you can almost picture the MIDI-sequenced notes running across the screen, or the lights on old machinery lighting up throughout every 4/4 bar - this doesn't deter from the sheer emotive and atmospheric tension Doyle conjures and washes over both the composition (no matter how simple) and his listeners. Anyone who experienced Daniel Avery's impressive debut last year, will immediately identify - and thus, relish - Doyle's own promience in getting the most out of such simple phrasing. And even when the electronics have a little more meat on their bones as on EP-featured, Heaven, How Long, EIY's swirling, hammering synths, together with Doyle's slightly-treated vocals, further strengthen the initial other-Worldly effect that springs up so well throughout this record. Here though, the experimentation, while leads the track into wonderous territory sonically, is left immaculately-defined by Doyle's own androgynous spectrum and harmonic tie into the piece - itself leaning back to a more rock-confident aesthetic than necessarily a fresh electronic one. And in its closing segment - drumbeats again at their most dominant, while synths whirl away in sync - any discomfort portrayed in Doyle's musical space is eventually left enticing and rhythmically addictive.

Like what Doldrums achieved last year, the combining of fantastical space alongside such empowering melodies is overwhelming and startling, yet is one the listener never feels discomfort from. Doyle does offer non-lyrical duties as well. The blaring, noise-drone openness to the second of the self-titled sequences finds the Englishman almost trapped by such wailing hues via wide-mouthed horns, brass and synth work that surrounds him. His voice seeps into the mirky air offered up; less statured than previous, but denser most importantly, all the while playing interestingly into the track's transitionary nature between passages. Looking For Someone, the third of Doyle's lyrical, collectively synchronous efforts, isn't as ambitious admittedly, but still presides with the same density and atmosphere of previous. The palette is lesser unsurprisingly; the main components being spatially-drawn percussion and a similarly frosted screen of synthesizers that sit at the same height as Doyle himself. The third self-titled track finds the new-age tone to EYI's electronics return in full swing; this time acting as if in reaction to an external force. There are slightly tinier microcosms of change in the tones, but surrounding it there remains a warming symphonic quality to the sound; synths casually phasing between places, while background noises mutter and skitter about both beside us as well as above us.

In these circumstances, approaching the closing offerings, Doyle's experimental side does pay off into enticing his listener to look more closely at the minor details. Or in this case, approach the music with a more focused ear for what exactly's taking place. The asynchronous, distortion of piano on Song For A Granular Piano emanates a Tim Hecker vibe in its shapeless abstractedness - the use of delay and reverb giving Doyle's voice as well as his notation a weightless, beyond-existential feel, and at the same time expanding on the record's pale, desaturated appearance. And on the forth and final offering of the self-titled series, Doyle's investigative treatment produces its most slow-burning yet profound composition thus far. What inevitably is revealed as but a simple symphonic lead, is remembered more-so for its vast assortment of textures and atmospheric tensions via Doyle's loosening use of pitch and frequency modulation - slowly lessening in its inaudibly-static edge as the track creeps from out of the shackles it's been bound to. Eventually, while the granular origins remain presiding over the piece, Doyle's void of sound is both striking in its varying intensities, yet soothing moreover in how it molds and pours over the listener like a half-awaken daze - an understanding, Doyle succeeds in, of ambient electronic's provocative edge, without overcompensating or indulging in any non-physical metaphors.

You'll see from the names mentioned for reference that William Doyle's ventures into electronics certainly conjure a variety of aspired aesthetics. This is but a commendable outcome of the man's rich and diverse look into what is, obviously, a vast genre, as both an enthusiast from an opposing genre, as much an artist knowing all too well of the importance on presentation and what that might instill upon the listener. Total Strife Forever is a unique and thus immersive listen, because it brings to light both sides of Doyle's starting point now as East India Youth; an electronic newcomer vouching to discover and explore new territory (regardless of depth, density or even danger) but also as an ex-frontman glimpsing at his subject matter from the position of a singular human being. Because of this, Doyle's emotive dialogue remains as invoking, and at his most personified, displays an honest presence in relation to the music's own characteristics. Though throughout, vocally present or not, East India Youth marries vocal play with synthetic development to great effect - thus fermenting electronic music as both this basic principle of mere arranged beats and patterns, but also a vast space easily distorted, mystifying, and above all, accumulatively infinite in its richness.
~Jordan Helm

8.3

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