Review Summary: "There is a question I've been asking..."
If pressed for it, I’d have to say that Total Strife Forever
is a pop album. Not in the conventional sense I guess, as it’s clearly not one for sing-a-longs but rather think-alones, yet in the end each track certainly exudes a type of catchiness underneath the ticking electronics and buzzing synths. And while songs like “Hinterlands” and “Glitter Recession” are clearly derived from techno and shimmery electronica, respectively, they are still grounded by a central hook. Albeit a loop or a pulse, it keeps the music ‘light’ on its feet, keeps it from being overly dramatic or from losing track of its destination. Tracks with vocals use his voice as a center point instead, raising the songs above the coldness of their instrumental counterparts, adding depth and clarity to the desolate expanses. “Heaven, How Long” stands at the top, perfectly merging both sides of the coin with the longing cry of the song’s namesake at the center, surrounded with vocal hooks on the front end and electronic rhythms on the back.
Yet for some reason East India Youth find the need to push beyond the ideals that make the majority of this record so appealing. I’d imagine it’s that desperate search for a defining sound to break out from the obvious influences of a sizable portion of the album (“Heaven, How Long” could quite possibly be a James Blake song) that sent him down some of these paths. The worst offenders are obviously the “Total Strife Forever” quartet, all of which sound similar in their empty droney-ness and repetitive chording, serving as irritating transitions from one real song to the next. They sound unfinished and unrealized next to the polish of the vocal harmonizes achieved in “Dripping Down” or the atmospheric haze of “Midnight Koto”. “Song for a Granular Piano” is the only vocal track that suffers from this out of place styling, with its overuse of vocal effects detracting from what could have been a strong melody. It’s like he feels the need to bring us down after every high point.
When all’s said and done, East India Youth tries to cram a lot of ideas into Total Strife Forever
, some more well thought out than others. His voice rings as the high point and his misunderstanding of when to ground us, or rather his idea that it’s even needed, the low. A more singular approach would better suit on their next outing, with a keener eye towards the flow of the record and less of one towards establishing artistic integrity by touching every idea imaginable. For these faults, however, there are certainly some outstanding ideas at work and the successes are indicative of a promising future.
"In spite of all the love inside
There is a question I’ve been asking
Heaven, how long?