William Tyler drops an exceptional release for his third full-length as a solo artist
A healthy obsession with the past is not a rare thing in modern American folk and rock music. Whether it’s the vintage guitar-wielding, retro rock’n’roll-era posturing of Jack White, or the wistful sixties folk nostalgia of Ryley Walker, there’s a trend for artists mining the ages for inspiration.
From his Dylan-esque slouch on the cover art, to the circuitous Beat Generation ramblings of this album’s promo video, William Tyler’s freewheelin’ lonesome traveller mystique also channels the spirit of another time. Drawing influence from such disparate themes as the American civil war to what he calls “arcane, architectural ghosts, and the kind of scenes you would see in old postcards”, Tyler builds his vision of a lost America.
Expansive instrumental productions portray the vastness of a continent where the old world is forced to the fringes in the wake of blind progress. The laid-back slide of ‘Albion Moonlight’, and rolling pluck and strum of ‘I’m Gonna Live Forever (If It Kills Me)’ form a reflective soundtrack to night time drives through abandoned industrial towns. Elsewhere, the downbeat twee of ‘Sunken Garden’ is a vision of sprawling suburbia lost in the haze of yellowing grass and rippling tarmac.
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These guitar-driven atmospherics draw an unavoidable comparison with the American Primitive style associated with John Fahey. In ‘Sunken Garden’ the half-picked half-strummed resonance of the opening acoustic guitar passage could have been ripped straight from The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party. Similarly, the meditative fingerpicking and occasional dissonance of ‘Kingdom of Jones’ has Fahey’s fingers all over its fretboard, although a droning synthesiser line betrays the recording’s age.
Primitivism pigeonholing aside, an ambient minimalist aesthetic also runs through the album. Often working around a single progression or theme, melodies and textures drift in and out of the great unfurling soundscapes. In the opener, ‘Highway Anxiety’, a boldly struck piano meets the pitter-patter of drums, while lap steel guitar echoes into the distance and a wave of synthesisers gradually takes over the mix. The ebb and flow of ‘Gone Clear’ even nods towards Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’, with dreamy transitions to swirling chimes and rippling finger-tap guitar work.
Perhaps best known as a decade-long sideman for the likes of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and The Silver Jews, Tyler continues to prove his exceptional talent with his third full-length as a solo artist.
‘Modern Country’ is out on the 3rd June 2016 via Merge Records
This William Tyler article was written by Tadgh Shiels, a GIGsoup contributor