William Doyle has an unassuming presence. His voice has a crystalline, choirboy quality, a projection of pure light, and on the cover of Culture of Volume, he’s wearing a navy blazer with a tie clip and a tousled haircut; it could be ripped from his prep school yearbook. He performs alone, standing behind a standard setup of MacBooks, samplers and holding a bass guitar.
And yet, his East India Youth project has a distinctly intimidating air. Here is an incomplete list of the bulletproof influences he’s namedropped for Culture of Volume: Brian Eno, Pet Shop Boys, Cluster, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Yellow Magic Orchestra. The album title is taken from a poem written by Eno collaborator Rick Holland. Music critics started a label for the sole purpose of releasing his first 12” and of course, he was nominated for a Mercury Prize a year later. Coming on the heels of the idea-packed but unfocused Total Strife Forever, Culture of Volume is poised for a presumable “pop” breakout, but it still comes off as an academic pursuit, a veritable thesis on the legends of avant-garde art-pop. Culture of Volume doesn’t just want to impress you; it wants you to behold it with chin-stroking, head-nodding awe.
At times this is the only pose even Doyle can muster towards his work. In the credits, he refers to the making of Culture of Volume as The Process and the first vocal track details the process of creating The Process. “The end result is not what was in mind/ The end result is always hard to find,” Doyle sings during “End Result”, treating inspiration like a forensics expert. It’s preceded by a lengthy Station to Station homage of daunting electronic noise called “The Juddering”. The guy likes definitive articles.
And so Culture of Volume presents itself as a record of Big Ideas and Big Statements and it sure as hell sounds big. “Beaming White” is the third track here, and that title about sums up the production’s hyperclarity. Every drum pattern, every synth pad, every orchestral frill is a tool used to build gleaming edifices to house his spotless vocals. It sounds fantastic, which is to be expected of a record mixed by Graham Sutton. The Bark Psychosis frontman has also worked with These New Puritans and British Sea Power and very few others; he’s not getting involved if the artist doesn’t aspire for a certain museum-ready quality. But those bands also understand the idea of art as entertainment; they’re showmen, whereas Doyle is a curator.
“Don’t Look Backwards” toys with the idea of Balearic, but it’s a picture of Ibiza without the partygoers, presenting a “vague horizon set ablaze.” To convey a heightened emotional state, Doyle will say, “At the point of passion/ I am inflamed”; it’s a rather chilly way of saying you’ve got the hots for someone. “Entirety” and “Hearts That Never” are futuristic electro-pop for dance clubs that always meet sanitation codes. And even if they are highbrow pop songs, they’re still pop songs all the same—Doyle needs to sell them.
He could one day evolve into a Patrick Wolf or Owen Pallett-style auteur, but he currently lacks their capacity for theatrics, for personal revelation, for a vocal mode that conveys something other than bathos, for melodies that actually pop. If he’s going to try for a show-stopping, six-minute ballad, like he does on “Carousel”, there has to be a show to stop in the first place; here, “Carousel” is a confession to an empty arena. The same applies to “A Manner of Words”; Doyle asks, “Turn this dull roar down”, and then the song goes on to serve as the record’s 10-minute anticlimax. For a record so bent on impressing the listener, Culture of Volume somehow never manages to leave a mark.