East India Youth - Total Strife Forever
The lead single, and the accompanying video, from East India Youth's debut album Total Strife Forever really tells you all you need to know about the record. 'Looking For Someone' opens like a familiar, albeit electronic, ballad with East India Youth (otherwise known as William Doyle) emoting directly into camera in a way reminiscent of Sinead O'Connor. Then he begins to ascend, the London skyline now whizzing past Doyle as the elevator he's in climbs the Heron Tower. Almighty, booming drums signalled the ascension; humming synths join the journey to the top before the music is stripped away and the camera pans away, twisting as the elevator descends. We are then shown a vertigo-inducing journey back to street level and a trip through the shaft of an elevator. Abrasive synthesisers and what sounds like a distorted church organ are the soundtrack for this dizzying descent. It's no longer a simple plea to a lost lover, but a rallying cry against loneliness in the midst of huge, anonymous monuments.
Total Strife Forever is a brutal electronic album, but one that still retains a very humanistic core - this juxtaposition is a thematic thread which runs throughout the album. Doyle then sculpts and defines the music in order to create tension between these two disparate elements, or else uses their differences in order to surprise and engage the listener. This is done within individual songs and across the record: over 11 tracks you'll hear acid beats, euphoric electronic pop, ambient passages, drone, krautrock and more. What's incredible is how East India Youth has managed to bring all of these elements together and construct a cohesive record.
The album opens with 'Glitter Recession'. Soft piano meets a twinkling keyboard melody and then heavy bass stabs. The piano becomes louder and deeper, the keyboard softer, and swirling synths enter the mix. It's a beautiful, optimistic opening, the instruments all layered so that they never feel like they are jostling for attention, but rather adding details and intricacies to make the piece more alive. 'Glitter Recession' is followed by the first of four 'Total Strife Forever' pieces, this one built around a steady sawtooth bass line that grows in intensity as a pounding kick drum appears and echoing synths wash in and out of audible range. It feels like it is building towards heavy electronic noise, of the kind bands like Fuck Buttons are renowned for. But instead 'Total Strife Forever I' is more restrained as sustained chords create a stunning euphoric ending.
The third track 'Dripping Down' is the first to feature vocals. If you've previously heard the singles leading into this album, or the Hostel EP from last year, you might be surprised by the fact that Total Strife Forever is largely instrumental, yet it makes the rare appearance of vocals all the more effective. 'Dripping Down's harmonies are beautiful, particularly in the closing moments of the track when they sound as though they've been recorded in a grand cathedral (most of this album was in fact recorded at home over the course of three years).
With clear percussion and shimmering synthesiser riffs, 'Dripping Down' is the first dance track on the album, yet what follows takes things up a notch. 'Hinterland' is an out and out acid track. It starts with an echoing, sonar-like melody, ambient chords and a quick snare/kick beat. The bass drops and we're given an infectious, shuffling four-to-the-floor beat; what follows deserves to be a staple in any self-respecting DJ's club mix. 'Hinterland' is phenomenal, yet somehow East India Youth manages to go beyond that on the next track.
'Heaven How Long' is easily the album's highlight and arrives just around the mid-point of the album. It's euphoric electronica at its best, and features one of the record's most delicate sections in the second verse. Doyle's vocals, hushed during the verses, soar for the chorus and the whole song ends with a krautrock inspired instrumental, marrying looped synthesisers to heavy bass guitar riffs.
The second half of the Total Strife Forever is just as strong and rewarding as the first half. There's the aforementioned lead single 'Looking For Someone', as well as three more 'Total Strife Forever' pieces. The second of those tracks, which immediately follows 'Heaven How Long', is easily one of the most meditative tracks on the album, solely comprising an organ, haunting choral vocals and a deep electronic buzzing. In many ways it's similar to Tim Hecker's most recent work which used church organs and filters to blur the lines between what's real and what's synthetic. Meanwhile, 'Midnight Koto' is perhaps the album's most atmospheric track. Distant loops, heavily distorted and sounding like a terrifying rush of traffic, play under the koto melody. It's heavily inspired by Brian Eno, particularly his work with Bowie on tracks like 'Moss Garden'.
Whilst these references are clear, at no point does it seem like East India Youth is just trying to replicate his idols. Total Strife Forever pulls together these influences and creates something truly extraordinary. This is an album firmly rooted in a decade where technology blurs the lines between fact and fiction, where we 'socialise' with brands and it's possible to feel hopelessly alone amidst the towering skyscrapers of a city. The final track 'Total Strife Forever IV' opens with static that eventually fades away to reveal grand synthesiser melodies before disintegrating once more. The beauty of those melodies is only enhanced by their temporary nature. Amidst the machinery there's a realisation that whilst the buildings, the brands and digital world might live on, it's reality and our fellow human beings that are truly beautiful and deserving of our attention.
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It's to any artist's credit when they're able to hold the audience's attention as thoroughly as East India Youth and Owen Pallett did when they played Queen Elizabeth Hall at London's South Bank. [read more]