The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


East India Youth
Culture Of Volume Luke Turner , April 9th, 2015 11:14

The culture of volume has destroyed pop as we used to know it. Where once its essential form and purpose as light entertainment and escapism would occasionally allow visionary works to burst through to a mass audience - Bowie, Laurie Anderson's 'O Superman' - now hyper-compression competes with itself in an increasingly narrow-minded mass media. Against this, it's tempting to bunker down into niches, seeking refuge in supposed countercultures. But these themselves are under threat - "co-opted by cunts" as Consumer Electronics rather succinctly put it last year. Over this largely bland and flat landscape rages the endless storm of high speed digital culture, the flash-in-the-pan rages and LOL-ing idiocy of social media. All-too-often the two worlds connect in a barrage of hastily-written clickbait thinkpieces about the most trivial non-events, the pop machine feeding the ravenous jaws of King Moron. We all feel claustrophobic and under siege.

"Turn this dull roar down / it soon becomes a shrill clarion / and I can't carry on any longer", sings William Doyle resignedly on 'Manner Of Words', the penultimate track of his astoundingly bold second album, Culture Of Volume. This record, released this week via XL, is the sound of an attempt to locate self and soul against both the blizzard of contemporary life and those moments when love has burned itself to embers. Take opening lyrics "the end result is not what was in mind," something that could apply equally to the process of making the record, a sense of apocalyptic foreboding, and the realisation that a relationship that seemed so secure is starting to come off the rails. Throughout Culture Of Volume, lyrics of suffocation and entrapment abound. There's "The stringing up up of all your limbs" ('End Result'), or "hearts that never ever let you go", and the admission "I crossed the line you drew for me". 'Beaming White', which is one of the best tracks here, has a terrifying froideur, with a clipped plastic edge and languid disdain to Doyle's voice. He sings frustratedly of "conversations stretched to fill the night / revelation drained of all insight" as if it's an internal narrative was preparing itself to terminate something that, stale and trapping, ought to have finished long ago. It has the air of a hollow comedown, endorphins stripped away, the desperate need that comes when the rushing glow has subsided to reveal empty London streets where "there's no dawn to talk of anyway".

This is not a record of genre promiscuity, despite the fact that rattling techno banger 'Entirety' emerges out of a glorious hands-up commercial-sounding club number called 'Hearts That Never' before gracefully giving way to 'Carousel'. One of Doyle's finest songs yet, this is a tearjerker that sounds like Scott Walker singing an ode to earth as his doomed craft drifts on a one-way mission into the void of space. Culture Of Volume feels entirely coherent, sometimes terrifyingly so, for Doyle's rejoinder to the culture of volume hasn't been to create something warm and cosy, or classicist and trad. 'Don't Look Backwards', for instance, is both a mantra against idealising broken relationships and an attack on nostalgia, that place of cosy, lazy, lethal and false respite against the garish now. Instead, Culture Of Volume sounds as if it were made in some bleak concrete room humming with banks of electronics rather than in his London bedroom.

I've never quite understood why the Pet Shop Boys, arguably the group who took the accessible intellectualism of post punk to the biggest audience, haven't really seemed to influence many subsequent artists. Too camp perhaps, too smart, too cold. Their influence is writ large here, however, as are moments of all sorts of other things - a Brett Anderson vocal tic on 'Manner Of Words', for instance, and there are surely few artists operating today who'd want to take the tougher end of techno into a melodic context, let alone try. You can tell, I think, that Doyle emerged as a songwriter primarily working within an indie format before coming intensely bored with it an moving on. I certainly take the same sense of histrionic drama from this as I get from Suede's Dog Man Star, for instance. He even uses some of the tropes of the culture of volume itself - 'Beaming White's aforementioned chill isn't too far away from the polymer slice of Autotune, while the synths of 'Turn Away' have a trance edge, the drop when it comes is a heavy one, overlayed (bizarrely) with reedy pan pipes. Like much of Culture Of Volume it shouldn't work, but it does.

This is a record that speaks of an alternative narrative for popular music, which is in part what spoke to John and I when, in the autumn of 2012, we first heard East India Youth's music and decided to start a record label to put it out. It is, needless to say, immensely gratifying to witness such an evolution. This is an album that sounds massive, pompous, threatening, druggy, psychically hollow, a mirror turned against the daily noise... and is all the better for it. Culture Of Volume versus culture of volume. Battle has been joined.