Coming off a slew of dates with the ever-prolific Ty Segall, the now Cali-based William Tyler returns with his Modern Country follow-up, Goes West.
Widely known for his contributions alongside indie cult icons from Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner to Silver Jews’ David Berman, Tyler stands not just self-possessed as a solo act, but rather a force. From the wildly psychedelic, Robert Beatty-adorned cover art to Tyler’s steadfast pastoral themes of modern Americana, Goes West resonates as a true testament of timelessness standing as a collection of songs not only personal and rich but irrefutably Tyler’s best to date.
Even upon trekking back to his phenomenal debut, Behold the Spirit, Tyler very quickly solidified himself as an indispensable figure within various folk circles, particularly his roots in Nashville. Holding true, too, for the ghostly hiss-strewn follow-up, Impossible Truth, to the vanishing geographical terrain that Tyler feels we’ve lost and continue to lose more and more of that encapsulates Modern Country, Goes West offers an iridescent rekindling for his music. Dropped towards the beginning of November last year, Tyler gifted lead single, “Fail Safe” – an astonishing first taste that decidedly secures his astuteness as one of today’s best fingerpicking guitar players. Its upbeat rhythm is carefree and paradisiacal, serving as one of Goes West’s sunniest escapes.
But while Modern Country saw Tyler break away from purely guitar-driven methods that established his name, Goes West shows him opt for a fuller, more embellished payoff. This is partly in thanks to the cast of elite musicians he’s assembled to play on the LP (Meg Duffy, Bill Frisell, Brad Cook, James Wallace, Griffin Goldsmith, and engineer Tucker Martine) that not only strengthen its songs, but round them with clarity and fruition. “Not in Our Stars” captures something brilliant in this way. As one of the LP’s preeminent tracks, Tyler and company spin and disentangle thoughts of solitude, regret, and even prospects of hope. Layered with whispery percussion, it serves as an idyllic getaway that manages to softly pull you in while grounding and even stabilizing you.
Songs like the lighthearted jubilance of “Rebecca” trots along while treated with sonic touchstones of piano and pedal effects whereas the LP’s second single, “Call Me When I’m Breathing Again” showcases the art of simplicity in Tyler’s repertoire. But while his discography spans deep themes of tranquility, Tyler manages to enhance those moments unlike he has before. “Eventual Surrender” is a prime example of this, although conscious to never overexert himself, Tyler allows for its materialization to manifest organically – with dueling electric and acoustic guitars and stripped-down percussion varieties, it’s a track that celebrates heavenly repose in the purest form.
The march-along “Venus in Aquarius” hits a similar note while opener, “Alpine Star” in every such capacity defines the epitome of Tyler’s sound. Beginning around its fifteen second mark, you can faintly hear the hollow tap from what’s likely Tyler himself keeping time with his fingers on his guitar. From its gentle sway to the animated piano fills and its cannonade percussion strikes, it’s a track that stands as the LP’s most highly colored.
While Goes West also calls to mind a number of influences and comparisons – from Oakland’s pedal steel whiz, Chuck Johnson, particularly moments from his Blood Moon Boulder LP, from the never-ending likeness to John Fahey and even Nick Drake, Tyler in some such way truly manages to cast a new array of color under his name. But whereas songs like “Virginia is For Loners” and “Man in a Hurry” are more straightforward, undisturbed jaunts, Goes West concludes more quietly than it began. “Our Lady of the Desert” gently closes out with lush piano and silvery glints of electric guitar that sound like moonlight on rippled water. But this goes to show Tyler’s clear-cut ability to mesmerize us even if he chooses to abstain his efforts.
While it’s difficult to not fully engulf yourself in his ethos from the LP’s sit-in folk jam stylings to even crossing over into more celestial territory that finds itself throughout Goes West, Tyler’s dexterity in capturing emotion and conveying a story is rather significant under his instrumental hand – a gift that he’s always yielded, but likely now more than he ever has.