William Tyler Takes Country Cosmic on Modern Country; Echoes CD of the Month for August.
Don’t be thrown by the title of William Tyler’s Modern Country, but also take note of it. This isn’t a country album by any Nashville standard but country suffuses its melodies and sense of place. It’s something William Tyler has been doing for a while.
I first heard Tyler on the Imaginational Anthem Volume 5 collection of acoustic guitar players, but he took himself out of the usual acoustic guitarist paradigm with his solo debut, Behold the Spirit. The string of post-John Fahey guitarists is almost limitless, but while most Fahey acolytes have absorbed his folk and blues-based finger-style approach, few have also taken on his more avant-garde and experimental tendencies. William Tyler has, although his influences for experimentation also come from other sources. He cites Sandy Bull, Brian Eno, and even more obscurely, Basil Kirchin, an artist who worked with found sound and tape manipulations of ensemble performances (look for his Worlds Within Worlds album.)
But William Tyler is also the son of country & western songwriter Dan Tyler (“Bobbie Sue”, “Modern Day Romance”). He explored that sound with the alt-country group Lambchop and you can hear that influence turning up on Modern Country with tracks like the bluegrass driven “I’m Gonna Live Forever (If It Kills Me.)”
He also pays homage to those roots on the opening track, “Highway Anxiety,” a plaintive solo electric guitar piece that evolves with ominous piano, a low buzzing synthesizer drone and an elliptical train rhythm provided by Wilco’s Glen Kotche. Backwards sounds, synth growls and high energy take this track to a completely different destination than its plaintive beginning.
That experimental aspect really emerges on tracks like “Gone Clear.” I don’t know if this is a Scientology reference (he isn’t one) but it’s a track that starts as a minimalist three-guitar meditation before moving into a lyrical theme that mixes acoustic and electric guitars. You can hear the Sandy Bull influence in the raga like-lines, but raga turns into a gamelan refrain with tuned percussion from Kotche against electric guitar arpeggios the could have come out of Steve Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint.” By the time he returns to the opening guitar cycle it sounds completely pastoral by comparison.
“Sunken Garden” is a more conventional, albeit beautiful and idyllic, guitar reverie with twin acoustic guitars, an electric adding ambience. Tyler has absorbed minimalism in a country sort of way, using it as a vehicle toward melody.
Tyler has a virtuoso’s elegance, but there is a shredder hiding in there too. Listen to the closing track, “The Great Unwind.” It starts out as a plaintive, country-draped electric picker until the screaming Celtic psychedelic guitar comes in like a berserker. That leads to a false ending of chirping birds, and you might think the album is going to fade out on that, but the band returns with another iteration of the theme sans raging guitar.
William Tyler is creating a world of rustic ambience, a sound that’s rooted in country and folk traditions, but which is ingesting a more contemporary sound and lysergic mood. This isn’t Modern Country, it’s Cosmic Country.
~ John Diliberto