Critical darling William Doyle (formerly known as East India Youth) peels back layers of his persona on his fourth album, Great Spans of Muddy Time, revealing an artist whose at home creating heavenly pop ballads and experimental sonic soundscapes brimming with emotion.
The Mercury Prize nominated Doyle has taken a more honest approach to his songwriting since shedding his old moniker for 2019’s Your Wilderness Revisited. Upon his first release, Doyle was thrown into the grinder of a ravenous press campaign, arduous touring and pressures to meet expectations. You can feel those pressures being cast away on Muddy Time, the record is a meditative experience built for those looking to escape.
The original tracks from the album were actually lost in the digital realm when Doyle’s hard-drive crashed, leaving him to pick up the pieces and start fresh. Luckily the skeletal versions of these tracks were recorded on cassette allowing Doyle to add new twists and improvisations.
The 13-tracks that comprise Muddy Time channel Doyle’s eclectic songwriting prowess, creating a body of work that shifts from pure pop goodness to honest self-examination and short minimalist compositions.
There is an overarching theme that lies within each individual track: a request for listeners to bid adieu to tension and seek inner peace. You can sense the influence of legendary producer and collaborator, Brian Eno throughout the album. While these instrumental tracks provide context and breathing room for the emotional swells of Doyle’s ballads, they sometimes feel like filler. There is a loss of urgency and makes the album feel more drawn out than necessary.
It’s a small issue compared to the compelling performance Doyle offers listeners on Muddy Time. Album opener “I Need to Keep You in My Life,” sets the tone as harmonious synths swallow you whole and Doyle’s voice acts as the wind to a ship’s sail. Doyle’s lyrics illustrate a lover’s plea overflowing with devotion that sadly seems to be at an end.
“And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright)” is the album highlight, straddled with lyrics that reflect on the aftermath of the former track’s heartache. An earworm acoustic line is the centerpiece of the song, which is surrounded by sorrowful synths and rhythmic drums. “But I feel alright, I believe,” sings Doyle, recreating a conversation that everyone who’s experienced a breakup has said in order to mask pain. A soaring electric guitar line enters the fray towards the end of the song adding more depth to the track in the vein of The Replacement’s “Sixteen Blue.”
Doyle once again delivers a blow to your gut on the synth laden ballad of “Nothing At All.” The song’s lyrics seem to reflect on the horrid dread of expressing yourself, a failure to reciprocate love or an artist whose lost the will to deliver a meaningful message. “What I meant, the feeling and the sentiment, were buried beneath great lengths of nothing at all,” swoons Doyle as the track reaches it’s cinematic conclusion with a host of strings.
“Semi-Bionic” is a hilarious Kafkaesque depiction of man’s dependency on technology and his wishes to break free from this plight to rekindle his humanity.
“Nothing but great spans of muddy time” is a quote derived from Doyle’s recent obsession, BBC host Monty Don, reflecting on periods of depression in his life. On Muddy Time, Doyle creates his most honest work to date and invites listeners to soak in their heartache.
Essential Tracks: “And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright),” “Nothing At All” and “I Need to Keep You in My Life”
Prerequisites: Destroyer’s Kaputt and Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest