Album Review: William Doyle – Great Spans Of Muddy Time (TOUGH LOVE)


Consisting of unvarnished vignettes, washed up in murky sonics, Doyle’s latest offering cultivates the embers of unfinished songs. The complete product is the jigsawed antithesis of it’s richly produced predecessor ‘Your Wilderness Revisited’. A record that without fail invited listeners to join a turtlenecked, boyish Doyle on a concrete jungle walk. One of him admiring the stuccoed terraced houses and getting lost in the sunset, while lavish layered sonics washed over his intelligent words. In ‘Muddy Time’ however, Doyle’s jaunty torch is now on it’s way out. The sun is now down, and Doyle and his listener have walked too far, now lost in barren territory. Doyle’s hard drive failures are instrumentally evident in the unfiled production, where he now favours minimalism. Yet in ditching perfectionism he has created his most varied project yet.

A good chunk of ‘Muddy Time‘ is instrumental, and in these moments Doyle creates his own musical landscape. Best described by me as the equivalent of Patrick Heron’s art world. Sometimes it pays off impeccably, however impressionistic it may get. Take ‘Shadowtackling‘ for instance; An assault of breakbeats wed with snarling synths, pulling together an IDM influenced soundtrack to a 4am drug culture documentary. It’s pummeling kick drums borrow from the Aphex Twin playbook unapologetically.

A Forgotten Film‘ is another alluring moment, painting a backdrop to a keepsake home movie, passed down from generation ad infinitum. Although the tape is skipping, and these days worthless, it becomes cursed if thrown out. What sounds like a violin (now morphed and glitched) brings these visions to life wistfully. I can’t help but admire Doyle for taking risks like this left right and centre.

That being said, on occasions I regrettably prefer Doyle’s idea to his resultant creation. I still can’t remember what ‘(a sea of thoughts behind it)‘ or ‘New Uncertainties‘ sound like, even 30 odd listens later. Then ‘Somewhere Totally Else’ I remember for the wrong reasons. It sounds like the equivalent of letting a stray cat run across a midi keyboard. Be warned that upon hearing this, your headphones aren’t broken, it’s just Doyle pranking you with some awful fake stereo panning. Something that should have been left abolished in the 1960s.

When lyrics do turn up they take on a Tristian Tzara type of (almost) catatonic minimalism. Doyle romanticises places like The Pennines and St Giles Hall in his words, but not without a detached longing plea to someone afar. ‘I Need To Keep You In My Life’ is one of these moments. Although minimally glued together by a plodding synth, Doyle manages to write the modern anthem of cosmic alienation with words alone. The track is like receiving the 15th follow up postcard after the first 14 have been lost.

And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright)‘ betters it still. A wistful slice of art pop, incorporating these impeccable Fripp-esque reversed guitar solos, sphering any listener into an ethereal sonic trance. It’s in a moment like this when I applaud Doyle aloud, and think ‘damn. this is his best song yet‘.

Or the knob twisting ‘Semi Bionic’, where Doyle lyrically depicts a future world where men have fallen victims to artificial intelligence. It instrumentally sounds as if the overpowering harsh static on this cut is technology creeping up on all of us, and we have been warned. This is backed up with these zany, playful synths that remind me of something from David Bowie’s ‘Low‘ LP.

‘St Giles Hall’ is beautiful too, and can’t go unmissed. A three lined, free verse poem. Instrumentally it is the musical equivalent of a world without gravity. Laden with saxophones and delay heavy harps.

Sure, ‘Nothing At All’ hasn’t much grown on me with it’s dated 80s synth pop influences. Sometimes being so cheesy that you can smell the stilton coming from the headphones. I also remain indifferent to the over excessive use of reverb on ‘Who Cares‘, but in general, there are plenty of highlight moments on this peculiar little bicameral art school album. It’s lost at sea, and of the time.

Key Tracks: ‘I Need To Keep You In My Life’, ‘And Everything Changed (But I’m Alright)’, ‘Shadowtackling’, ‘St Giles Hall’, ‘Semi-Bionic’, ‘A Forgotten Film’

Great Spans Of Muddy Time is released via Tough Love Records on Friday Mar 19.