Total Strife Forever, the first LP by Bournemouth born sonic experimentalist William Doyle who records under the evocative name of East India Youth, is the sort of debut album that could only really be made in the polymorphous, wildly creative musical times in which we now inhabit.
Doyle is something of an auteur and thinks nothing of combining different musical forms and styles and warping them into something quite unique. In bygone decades, the music of East India Youth would be neatly boxed away and filed under a category of experimental or ambient electronica or, even worse, derided as unlistenable self-indulgence. Instead, in 2014 it should be heralded as a significant work from one of the UK’s finest new talents.
Total Strife Forever is the result of a number of Doyle’s musical influences fermenting, bubbling and reacting against and with each other to create music that is richly beguiling and challenging, yet imbued with a strong heartfelt quality and sublime beauty. From the Foals referencing title that perhaps is a relic of Doyle’s time in a self-fronted trad indie rock band, East India Youth is a composite of Doyle’s varied musical upbringing. Doyle cites the classical works of Shostakovich and the pioneering electronic experimentalism of Brian Eno as prime influences as well as a number of electronic techno producers like London duo Raime. All these sounds and styles make up Total Strife Forever tied together with Doyle’s sense of questing sonic adventure and immaculate musicianship.
The album is centred around four different pieces of music that make up the title track and compose its core. Beginning with the foreboding, swarming portent of Total Strife Forever 1 the instrumental pieces traverse from abrasive humming drones via beatific, tranquil choral interludes to impossibly beautiful and inspiring neo-classical ornate works, as on the deeply impressive Total Strife Forever III and the final, equally moving, closing part IV.
The four instrumental versions of the title track form the framework around which Doyle weaves increasingly bewitching patters as the music veers from moments of sublime euphoria as on the glorious glittering crescendo of Heaven How Long to incredibly intense industrial techno as best exemplified in the stunning punishing attack of the relentless Hinterland, the album’s undoubted highlight. It takes talent to master both melodic electronic pop and uncompromising grinding techno all on the one album.
Where Total Strife Forever truly excels is in Doyle’s exemplary use of texture. It is an album that constantly surprises and leaves you on edge. Yet nothing sounds forced or laboured. A masterstroke is Doyle’s sparse use of vocals. His own voice is lovely and pure, but he largely eschews using it save for a few key moments. When he does, it provides an extra degree of emotion that turns gently self-loathing pieces like Dripping Down and Looking For Someone into emotional gut punches. The latter track is indeed heart stopping as Doyle lays his emotions bare proclaiming, “You think I feel nothing, you don’t know how wrong you are.”
There are comparisons that can be made between the work of East India Youth and James Blake, if not strictly in sound but certainly in approach. Both are fearless, ambitious, young English producers and both are seeking to warp traditional song structures into an unclassifiable form of weirded out experimental pop. Yet, while James Blake came good on his Mercury prize winning second album, William Doyle as East India Youth has delivered a stunningly exquisite work on his very first go.