You would be forgiven, before hearing a second of this record, for just going ahead and assuming that it’s a masterpiece. Just look at that gorgeous artwork! Only true works of genius, your ‘Spirit Of Eden’s, your ‘Ghosteen’s, exude that kind of elegant natural splendour. And that name - ‘Great Spans Of Muddy Time’. So evocative, so pregnant with meaning!
This initial presumption of greatness is backed up by the album’s opening duo of songs: the achingly romantic ‘I Need You In My Life’ and the upbeat ‘And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright)’. Throughout both William Doyle’s fragile voice hovers angelically above a rich soup of plucked acoustic guitars and warbling synthlines, building via increasingly euphoric choruses to an unexpectedly wild guitar solo.
From ‘Somewhere Totally Else’ onwards, however, ‘Time’ reveals itself to be less of a lush ‘Moon-Shaped Pool’ and more of a wonky ‘Amnesiac’. The third track sounds like the elevator music that would play in David Lynch’s office, and its arrival heralds a complete breakdown from which the album never quite recovers.
This is not so much an issue as a feature of this album. Not so long ago Doyle used to release music under the name East India Youth, specialising in chaotic, unstructured blasts of sonic creativity punctuated by moments of soulful electro-indie. On this record he follows a similar approach. The manner in which everything just collapses in on itself early on in the album’s runtime before repeatedly trying and failing to regather momentum is frustrating at first, but the way little islands of song like ‘Nothing At All’ and ‘Semi-Bionic’ rise out of the murky pond surrounding them becomes strangely satisfying on subsequent listens, like they are triumphing against the odds.
Its fragmented nature will doubtless appeal to some listeners, and it could be viewed as one of the quintessential lockdown records, what with its long periods of directionless inanity punctuated by moments of emotional catharsis. But there are just too many tracks here that feel like unfinished and ultimately inconsequential sketches: the squelchy ‘New Uncertainties’, the endlessly undulating ‘A Forgotten Film’, the harsh ‘Shadowtackling’ (a song so overflowing with EIY vibes that it comes as absolutely no surprise to discover that it was assembled back in Doyle’s old flat, a.k.a. the ‘East India Youth Hotel’).
Coming after the rich, assured evolution of ‘Your Wilderness Revisited’, a fantastic record that promised to set Doyle’s eponymous’ output apart from the music he made under his old moniker, ‘Time’ feels like a half-step backwards. This is by no means to suggest that he used to make rubbish music, both ‘Total Strife Forever’ and ‘Culture Of Volume’ remain classics of the genre and were rightly hailed as groundbreaking at the time. It just feels a little early in our budding relationship with solo artist William Doyle for him to start harking back to his EIY days yet, and ‘Wilderness’ sounded so focused and full of potential that this follow-up can’t help but come across a little, well, muddy by comparison.
This is a messy, distracted record for messy, distracted times. Its creator has produced something studiously imperfect, a cracked vase that’s beauty you can’t help but admire while still wishing you could see it perfect and whole. William Doyle is definitely capable of crafting a masterpiece (hell, he might already have), but, no matter how much it looks like it should be one, ‘Great Spans Of Muddy Time’ just isn’t it.
Words: Josh Gray
- - -
- - -
Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.