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William Doyle: Great Spans of Muddy Time

If you had to describe the boundary-pushing, at times confounding, at times astonishing, music of William Doyle in one word, it’d be cinematic. All the different tones and instrumentation he uses to write songs serve to create expressive imagery. Great Spans of Muddy Time continues to display his gift for crafting textured, vivid experiences, but simultaneously feels like the loosest project he’s ever done. With a hard drive failure forcing him to use cassette recordings as they were, Doyle turned a problem into an opportunity to stop fiddling and let the music breathe. The result is an earthy record of songs and soundscapes that takes you on journeys built from notes and melodies.

On Great Spans of Muddy Time, Doyle’s songwriting comes to life like never before in several catchy tunes that nevertheless keep his idiosyncrasies intact. The best of these is “And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright),” a joyous embrace of impermanence and growth. Waves of synths and dry guitar picks ebb and flow throughout the tune, joined by Doyle’s lovely singalong chorus and warped guitar solos. You’ll want to listen on repeat to dig into every standout moment. “I Need to Keep You in My Life” is nearly as wonderful, a glowing synth melody blooming to life like a time-lapsed video of plants sprouting out of the soil.

Doyle’s vocals are often a highlight, bringing a beautiful mix of warmth and melancholy. “Nothing at All” sounds like Kid A Radiohead trying to write a Cure song, as Doyle bemoans his inability to express his feelings for another, making him wonder if they’re even real. “So I couldn’t say what I meant/ The feeling and the sentiment/ Were buried beneath great lengths of nothing at all,” he laments. On “Who Cares,” Doyle’s voice echoes into the ether alongside sparkling synths. “Theme From Muddy Time” is a lullaby of atmospheric synth melodies that float effortlessly alongside his vocal about climbing out of dark moods, looking to move on from a “Terrible time” and “Show some love for myself.” “Semi-bionic” misses lyrically, but the music builds superbly from electronic static and Doyle’s crisp vocals into a mixture of acoustic strums, drums and uplifting synths.

Even when there aren’t many words sung, Doyle can still paint a picture. “Somewhere Totally Else” conjures up the feeling of smoking a cigarette underneath a flash neon sign on a rain-soaked evening. It’s a mechanical trek into a Blade Runner dusk. “A Forgotten Film” sounds exactly like its title – a filmic electronic pulse that fuzzes and flickers, like driving through a tunnel into a bustling sci-fi landscape. “St. Giles’ Hill” turns the stutter of distorted vocals into percussion in this otherwise airy track. Although many of these compositions have overcast ambience, the album closes with a move into the light on “[a sea of thoughts behind it],” like the sun rising after a hard night.

While Great Spans of Muddy Time could use a little editing – tracks “Shadowtackling,” “Rainfalls” and “New Uncertainties” pad the runtime without offering much of note – the more relaxed vibe of this album makes for an enjoyable experience to lose yourself in. It’s a record made for spring, where grey clouds and sunshine often go hand in hand, where winter blues meet the hope of warm weather. Doyle’s spoken about how this music was inspired by memories of physical locations in his life, and that shows with every picturesque moment. So, open a window, lie back, close your eyes and let yourself be transported.

Summary
Doyle’s songwriting comes to life like never before in several catchy tunes that nevertheless keep his idiosyncrasies intact.
75 %
A cinematic experience
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