William Doyle revisits a very English wilderness

William Doyle

I never got into William Doyle’s previous records as East India Youth. And I haven’t even bothered with the ambient albums he has put out over the last couple of years. So, in that sense, his new solo album ‘Your Wilderness Revisited’ is really my first real introduction to his music. And what a mesmerising introduction it is!

One reason for me not really having listened to Doyle in the past might be that I always find more difficult to get used to synths than sounds conjured up using analogue instruments. 

However, I think Doyle really has combined the best of both worlds here. There are huge swaths of synth all over the album, some of it really massive and even pompous – but the sounds still have a feeling of analogue depth to them, and on top of that there is an oft-recurring saxophone to balance the electronics. The combination makes the sound interesting and multi-faceted, and, most importantly, somehow embodied.

And despite the heavy use of synths and drum machines, there is nothing modern about the sound, not even modernistic.

A good example of this could be the track ‘Orchestral Depth’. It doesn’t contain anything remotely resembling an orchestra, apart from a bit of piano. Instead it is literally drenched in swooning washes of synth, with Doyle’s high pitched voice on top. Just as I starting to think that this could almost spill over into prog pretentiousness, the saxophone enters and it is impossible to not think Pink Floyd. But then the sustained bed of sound fades out in a cascade of white noise and a spoken voice takes over:

“But the actual fabric of the places, where I learned about the fabric of places, has remained, has remained uncannily consistent. Stasis is still an option, and it is the one that this part of England has chosen. The world of my childhood hasn’t vanished: it’s a ghost that has no struggle to be seen behind the coarse facades that have been superimposed down the years.”

This strikes me as a key passage, because it gives context to the album – and also hints at why it has taken him as long as ten years to complete it. ‘Your Wilderness Revisited’ is a rumination of what it is like to be alive today and knowing what has passed but not what is to come. It is both starkly personal and surprisingly universal. With it, Doyle joins the hallowed ranks of eccentric pop musicians, not the least of whom is Brian Eno, featured here with another spoken passage on the track ‘Design Guide’. 

Eno opens that track with the words: “Distinctive and positive identity.” And although he is literally reading that from a list of suburban landscaping requirements for councils, those words really sum up this album as a whole; an album with a focus on describing identity, but while using bits and pieces of nostalgia never drowns in it but manages to keep spirits reasonably high. And with Doyles’ silk-smooth vocals and un-orchestrated yet sweeping pop melodies, this certainly is as distinctive as it is unforgettable.

I am also deciding right here and right now to go back and listen seriously to the East India Youth albums; something this fully formed simply does not rise out of nowhere.