Thursday, June 12, 2014

East India Youth: Total Strife Forever (2014)

(Stolen Recordings)


Moody and heavy as a broken dark night but often breezily pretty all the same, the debut album from William Doyle, who spins the knobs and records as East India Youth, couldn't be easier to get into. As modern techno goes, it's almost suspiciously immediate, with a good deal of brooding ambiance tempered by bursts and stabs of melody and sensually pleasurable beats 'n' moans. It goes forward at length without really settling into a coherent mood, but despite a boring denouement it never truly falters either.

While there's nothing unique or new about what Doyle's doing here, he will go far as a stylist, capturing complicated and offbeat moments with the verve of Four Tet and the Field, only with more of a sense of audaciousness and adventure than either (lately, anyway). Like James Blake, Doyle's sort of a de facto singer-songwriter dabbling in a world that frequently downplays the importance of songs themselves, but Total Strife Forever has considerably more variance in its grooves than Blake has yet exhibited. The pulsating first part of the title cut will turn your mind inside out with its gorgeous thump, especially on headphones or a great system, but skip down the line a bit and find something like the blown-out "Midnight Koto." It's just as interesting, but it doesn't even sound like the same performer -- a sign, some will say, of an identity problem, but I think it's more like creative restlessness and eclecticism. Part two of "Total Strife Forever" is Eno-like drone but loud, and "III" booms forth with what sounds like a pipe organ at a funeral just when it threatens to recede into the background. There's a lot to hear.

Doyle is a very young Englishman -- just 23 -- and the most endearing moments of his record are those that have him connecting with the peculiar identity and history associated with his age and nationality. On four particular cuts, Strife becomes essentially a pop record, and such a good and unusual one that you start to wish it went all the way. The Beatles are an evident influence on the minimal but melodic twins "Looking for Someone" and "Song for a Granular Piano," but it's Bowie who makes the grand entrance. "Dripping Down" owes a lot to Berlin-period Bowie, up to its operatic "fiiind new love" climax, but its plugged-in, insistent pop also fits with the darkened, drugged club atmosphere that's the main event here. An even stronger catharsis comes at the peak of "Heaven, How Long?" which is written like a Bowie song but sung like one of Martin Gore's Depeche Mode showstoppers, and it fulfills the back end of its open-armed chorus even more completely, sliding back into brutal backbeat and the emotional connection that anyone who sits at the crossroads of electronica and pop pines to reach.

The major impression is not that this is a rock or pop record trying to be something else, but that the entirety coalesces into a disconnected but intriguing collision of sounds that are, more than anything else, pretty. With the ghosts of Eno and the Beatles both in tow, this is simultaneously a solid dance album and a rather terrific rainy-day album. Doyle's gift is that he sees little daylight between the beautiful, distant piano that opens "Glitter Recession" and the glitchy computer sounds that are just as lovingly broken down on "Hinterland." The former is drowned out in the end by oceanic white noise, the latter breaks out into soft, chilled, sinister trance, but both cuts achieve an ideal balance between the skill and curiosity of a great producer's technique and the personal subservience to full-hearted bliss that's just as important on a night in as a night out.

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