Great Spans of Muddy Time is the fourth album from Mercury Music Prize nominated artist William Doyle, and the second under his own name (having dropped his earlier East India Youth moniker). Born from accident but driven forward by instinct, the album was built from the remains of a catastrophic hard-drive failure. With his work saved only to cassette tape, Doyle was forced to accept the recordings as they were – a sharp departure from his process on the previous record, 2019’s Your Wilderness Revisited, which he crafted over four long years. (Line of Best Fit described it as “a dazzlingly beautiful triumph of intention” and Metro declared it an album not only of the year, but “of the century”.)
“Instead of feeling a loss that I could no longer craft these pieces into flawless ‘Works of Art’, I felt intensely liberated that they had been set free from my ceaseless tinkering,” Doyle says of Great Spans. These unedited, often improvised pieces, free from fine-tuning, plunged him into uncharted waters. What remains is Doyle’s unique exploration of pop, art-rock, ambient and idiosyncratic compositions, married with a voice that deftly glides from tender restraint to soaring peaks, but its expression is rawer and less polished here.
“It’s a kind of Englishman-gone-mad, scrambling around the verdancy of the country’s pastures looking for some sense,” Doyle says. “It has its seeds in Robert Wyatt, early Eno, Robyn Hitchcock, and Syd Barrett,” he adds, crediting also Bowie’s ever-influential Berlin trilogy, and highlighting a far less expected muse: Monty Don, presenter of Gardener’s World, Doyle’s lockdown addiction. “He once described periods of depression in his life as consisting of ‘nothing but great spans of muddy time’,” Doyle says. “When I read that quote I knew it would be the title of this record. I would also be lying if I said it didn’t chime with my mental health experiences as well.” What results is a beautiful ode to the power of accident, instinct and intuition.