East India Youth – ‘Total Strife Forever’

William Doyle is more a one-man electronic band than a dance music producer

On William Doyle’s debut record as East India Youth, he brings traditional songwriting craft and singing learned while fronting Doyle & The Fourfathers, a bookish indie group that were hotly tipped, then failed. Read interviews with Doyle and the implication is that he lost faith in guitars, and the ability to adequately express himself through rock music. Sounds composed alone on computers and gadgets became more interesting to him, and he looked particularly to Brian Eno to help understand how to bring emotion to music created on the cold interface of a laptop keyboard.

The title ‘Total Strife Forever’, which appears to be a pun on the Foals album ‘Total Life Forever’, suggests a rejection of indie, but it’s just a phrase that got stuck in Doyle’s head as he toiled away, working strict nine-to-five hours, making his new music. It’s music that didn’t come quickly. The album took three years, though it follows the ‘Hostel’ EP that came out in April last year. The wheels are beginning to turn for Doyle.

The key song on ‘Hostel’, ‘Heaven, How Long’, is also the high point of ‘Total Strife Forever’. It sounds like the summation of all the experimentation you hear elsewhere on the album, and it suggests that, as good a record as ‘Total Strife Forever’ is, East India Youth is a project that could go in any number of directions. ‘Heaven, How Long’ makes perfect sense alone, and being six minutes-long and carefully structured into different parts it is both euphoric and epic. Yet it is grander here than on the EP, nestled in the middle of instrumental passages of sparkling electronica like ‘Glitter Recession’ and ‘Midnight Koto’, and more melodic compositions like ‘Dripping Down’ and ‘Looking For Someone’.

The title track becomes a four-part suite broken up across the album, which recalls both Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’ and the wondrous, pretty end of Fuck Buttons’ catalogue. ‘Hinterland’ has the main-room pulse of early Underworld and the motorik drive of Factory Floor, who Doyle recently supported on tour. It’s the out-and-out banger on the record, and a track that could easily be a single. There’s more than a touch of the Greek composer Vangelis about ‘Total Strife Forever III’ at the back end of the record, and Doyle follows it with the Philip Glass-like ‘Song For Granular Piano’.

This variety is what makes ‘Total Strife Forever’ seem optimistic and developmental, but it’s not an avant-garde album. It’s an exercise in Doyle using electronic sounds to express himself in a way he never could with rock music. The music feels highly personal and warm, and it’s intentionally open and sketch-like: personal notes, written down and turned into songs. You sense that Doyle doesn’t quite know what he’s created, and neither should the listener. It’s well executed, quite odd, highly original and full of promise – exactly what you want from a debut album.

Phil Hebblethwaite