Two years ago, if you had approached John Doran about starting a record label, he might have laughed. He might even have told you that it would be akin to setting fire to your savings account "while simultaneously flushing your own head down a toilet."
Doran is a co-founder of The Quietus, a UK-based music and arts website. Over the years, he's watched fellow publications flounder in the record business, so a label was the last thing on his mind -- until William Doyle turned up at a Factory Floor concert with a demo in hand. Doran took the battered CD back to his office, where it sat for weeks on his desk, amid a teetering pile of forgotten demos. And then, one day, he played it.
Doyle, better known as East India Youth, resists reduction into a single genre. His work is a lush cocktail of synth-pop, krautrock, and motorik, muddled together with a twist of heartbreak and something else you can't put your finger on. "I'm not going to claim that [Doyle's] the only person mixing up the elements that he is," Doran says, "but the end sound is unique, timeless and -- most importantly -- extremely enjoyable."
At first, Doran and Quietus co-founder Luke Turner pushed East India Youth to outside record labels with "evangelical" zeal. No one, however, shared Doyle's vision quite like they did. "It went from being this thing which was really amazing for a demo to being simply one of the best records I'd heard in years," Doran says. "[Turner] must have read my mind, and he said to me one day, 'You realize what we're going to have to do...' And I was like, 'Shit. You're right.'"
Last February, Doran and Turner announced their new record label, The Quietus Phonographic Corporation. Their first and only artist was East India Youth. Without radio plugging or advertising -- or, indeed, any kind of fanfare apart from their own faith -- the Phonographic Corporation released Doyle's debut EP a month later. Featuring four immaculate tracks on 12" vinyl, Hostel drifts from the atmospheric musing of "Heaven, How Long" to the percussive "Looking for Someone." Though each track is different from the last, all share the rich, textured sound that has become Doyle's signature.
Hostel has since grown into East India Youth's full LP, Total Strife Forever. Released this week by Stolen Recordings, the album is ambitious in scope, at times bleak and languid; at others, wondrous. Two tracks from the EP remain, but they are interspersed with instrumental wanderings that heighten the album's spectral quality. When Doyle does sing, it's with the evocative imagination of a storyteller, inviting the listener into a landscape peopled by "shipwrecked" lovers and "undiscovered carnivores." "I was taken with the honesty and sincerity of his lyrics," says filmmaker Joe Spray, who directed both of Doyle's music videos. "[It's] something really rare in contemporary music."
Despite its stark imagery, Total Strife Forever is not without hope. At the end of his video for "Dripping Down," for example, Spray abandons his grayscale palette for a tree in full color, soaked in sunlight. It's a breathtaking image, echoing moments of euphoria throughout the album itself. Between the meteoric, wordless swell of "Heaven, How Long" and the exuberant synth on "Dripping Down," East India Youth reminds us not only of heartache and solitude, but also of life afterward. He has created a record both fearless and inventive -- a record with a startling air of truth, resonating beyond the vinyl in which it lives.
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