Tough Love · November 26, 2021
Multi-instrumentalist William Doyle’s Bandcamp page notes that the songs in his newest release were “taken in a direction that resonates with where my head is at currently.” The content of each track makes this clear, evoking an image of the inside of someone’s skull and retreating further into the depths of their mind with each verse. Alternate Lands opens with “Autumn is Your Last Chance,” a cover of Robyn Hitchcock’s song of the same name, which realizes the disappearance of a beloved person at the break of dawn. It is followed by “The Unanswered Why” mourning that person. “The Unanswered Why” is a standout track, louder and more energetic than the rest, but somehow still sounds like a rainy-day song or like the woes of a wandering, listless daydreamer. The daydream aesthetic continues in “Inner-National,” describing the “alternate lands” in the album’s title rather explicitly as a kingdom of the mind to retreat into. The final track, “An Apparition (without Event)” takes the concept to its natural conclusion, describing the passage of time without notice or care. Each song starts out quiet, soon building up to a climax that is at the same time powerful and whimsical, like a chaotic, wandering mind that gets more and more active before stopping and snapping back to reality.
The instrumentation of the album matches its thematic content very well: at the forefront are droning, otherworldly synthesizers. Doyle’s voice has a slight echo or tinny filter at almost all times; percussion is soft, and all other instruments have an unsettling minor quality. The music sounds ‘hazy,’ though much less so than previous works; Doyle would previously lean heavily on synthesizers to create moody, atmospheric pieces, but now allows other parts to shine in their own right. Ironically, this more grounded approach works better for the dreamlike themes in each song’s lyrics. Dreams and mindscapes are not formless, foggy wastes, but are just a bit weird and personal, after all. Still, the album is one of those kinds where it’s easy to fall asleep to it. Although, that would require the volume to be turned down a bit. The synths tend to be piercing and overwhelm the other layers, particularly in “Autumn is Your Last Chance,” and become a bit distracting as a result. The synths are toned down in the following tracks leaving them pleasant if somewhat unsettling. In all, the tracks here still leave behind a want for more, like there was a story being told with a beginning and an end but no middle. If this is the direction that Doyle wants to take with his next album as mentioned in the same Bandcamp page, then it will undoubtedly be an album to look forward to.