William Tyler: Modern Country (Merge) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, July 7th, 2020  

William Tyler

Modern Country


Jun 10, 2016 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Though William Tyler's fingerpicking has always suggested open vistas, ragged coasts, and endless plains, the streamlined Modern Country summons the undying hum and manmade ingenuity of freeways and canals. Relatively polished and succinct, the album finds Tyler trimming song lengths after having stepped into a professional studio with a backing band made up of vets Phil Cook, Glenn Kotche, and Darin Gray (of Hiss Golden Messenger, Wilco, and Tweedy, respectively).

To Tyler's enormous credit, the shift on his fourth instrumental full-length plays like it was precipitated by genuine curiosity rather than compromise or concession. As always, he manages to engage in a rich dialogue with genre, individuality, and national identity without every uttering a word; this is not so much the doomsaying the album trailer hinted at as it is an exploration of howif at allan Americana guitarist fits into the contemporary sonic and social landscape.

Modern Country is also a tender, if idiosyncratic, celebration of the folk, country, and minimalist forms that inform Tyler's work. The excellently titled "I'm Gonna Live for Ever (If It Kills Me)" showcases some of his most controlled, melodic playing, and the gorgeous "Sunken Garden" finds him at ease in the role of bandleader, allowing the exquisite warmth of organ washes and delicate piano to support his leads.  

Orchestral inclinations that sometimes lurked beneath prior efforts are also brought into the open here, most notably on the multi-tiered "Gone Clear," which includes a passage that has more in common with Steve Reich and Philip Glass than John Fahey or Leo Kottke.

The unruly splendor of the superlative Impossible Truth (still Tyler's summit) is occasionally missed ("Albion Moonlight" might just be too well-mannered for its own good), but Modern Country is the guitarist at both his most giving and lucid. Consider closing number "The Great Unwind," which begins as a showcase for an awesome electric tone before giving way to field recordings of birds, only to resolve itself as a downright hummable full-band ditty. Its rather representative of the album as a whole-an unexpected offering, to be sure, but one that holds up to active scrutiny while also still giving listeners enough space to dream their own dreams. (www.williamtyler.net)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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