East India Youth - Total Strife Forever - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

East India Youth - Total Strife Forever

by Steve Rhodes Rating:7.5 Release Date:2014-01-13

2013 was an fruitful year for emerging, solo electronic artists. With James Blake catapulted into the mainstream with his Mercury-winning Overgrown, interesting releases from the DIY home recordings of Forced Random, the introspective musings of Deptford Goth and sonic annihilator The Haxan Cloak, it was also the year which saw the emergence of East India Youth, aka William Doyle, and his Hostel EP, loved so much by The Quietus that they formed a record label to release his recordings. The debut album follow-up, Total Strife Forever (that title could be a humorous take on the title of Foals' second album), is a polished progression on William's EP, touching upon a vast number of genres which somewhat clutter the album, leaving it a little unfocussed, though it remains a strong debut.

'Heaven How Long' links to William's previous work, having been the lead track off the Hostel EP. It begins with a luscious, pulsing electronic loop that wanders in and out of the speakers. Though it appears eerily similar to a slowed-down version of the opening of Maximo Park's 'Our Velocity', it is employed here in a different context, providing backing to William's rather flat and Sylvian-lite vocal.

The song builds into a euphoric chorus, full of descending, glacial synths, backing William's soaring declaration of the song's title. Motorik drums, 80s keyboard loops and lightly shredded guitar propel the song along but ultimately lead to nowhere, just as it was getting interesting.

The habit of repeating a song's title is evidenced on 'Looking for Someone'. Beginning with acapella vocals, with treated, programmed drums and an organ added partway through, it sums up a nagging problem with chunks of this album. The song seems too meticulously planned and forced, with every element carefully selected. Even the organ-led, electronic interlude which splits the vocal and seems to indicate a leftfield turn feels anything but.

The weakness of William's vocal is increasingly exposed too, relying on too much echo and choral enhancing, seeming to dubiously combine the worst elements of Jaguar MA and Yeasayer. 'Song for a Granular Piano' uses these production techniques, with a wandering, treated piano and buried electronics providing backing for William's lifeless, barely-sung vocal.

Thankfully, 'Dripping Down' is a marked improvement, with William's vocal (“You may be moving in glacial paces/ but you're not melting”) perfectly in tone with the sumptuous organ, bass and percussion in the opening. The song builds, adding a frenetic bass-drum, washes of synths and a return of the choral backing to a gospel-like close. After such a beautiful start, it seems a shame that William allows bombast to takeover. The initial delightful vulnerability is moulded into a forced and carved M83 b-side. However, it does showcase how William's vocal can be effectively used to supplement his melodies.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the stronger tracks tend to be the instrumental numbers. Opener 'Glitter Recession' is a positive start to the record, with piano and synths supported by spacious but perfectly-placed bass notes. It is a building song, with melodies which possess far greater direction and focus, and like Ulrich Schnauss-meets-Walls, or a crescendo-less 65DaysofStatic. The song carefully increases in volume rather than tempo, threatening to unleash into a euphoric climax but holds back, without losing any impact because of it.

'Midnight Koto' takes a more restrained path, taking influence from ambient artists such as The Caretaker, GNAC, and especially Halls, with haunting, reverbed melodies, punctured by harpsichord. 'Hinterland' seems at odds with the rest of the album, though, sounding like dated early 90s 8-bit techno. At least it demonstrates William's diverse approach to his music.

However, the four-track song-cycle 'Total Strife Forever', spread through the album, is more challenging and proves to be the highlight. 'II' is a patient number with a heavy, almost atonal organ at its centre. The sounds are layered, built upon and joined by treated choral voices, the marriage of which works far better and has greater impact here than on the rest of the album.

'III' retains the pace and organ though the sounds are warmer and lighter, with greater use of subtle electronics, melody and movements in pitch. It is a soaring and triumphant track, reminiscent of Brian Reitzell or Holy Fuck. 'IV' is more experimental, with a static, electronic opening, like heavily-filtered, crumpled bubble wrap and buried noises which chug along in the background. There is more distortion and fuzz on the lead keys, which impose themselves on the song like a mildly disturbing fairground ride.

'I' is the best of the lot, with a repetitive electronic loop throughout which mimics a pleasant chainsaw, like Fuck Buttons or a tamer Factory Floor. With drums, bass, further electronic loops, reverbed noises and organ sounds being slowly added,  the song builds into a compelling and hypnotic track, full of atmosphere.

This is a positive and precocious debut which displays a wide range of styles and influences without following any set or established patterns. Though the album might benefit from a little more focus and refinement in places, it is still a confident and welcoming release.

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