William Tyler doesn’t make music as much as he paints aural landscapes. There’s a vast space within his records as a solo musician. The former Lambchop guitarist -over the course of three studio LPs- has created a musical world of dusty fields, endless horizons, and open roads that seem to never end. On his newest and third LP, simply titled Modern Country, the guitarist extraordinaire continues his musical journey to some vast prairie Valhalla and builds upon what came before it. The result is a beautiful and overwhelming piece of musical high art in the form of an existential twang. A tour de force of commonality turns a musical sigh into the meaning of it all.
Modern Country may indeed have its roots firmly planted in hearty southern and Midwest soil and clay, but whittling it down as “country” or “roots” music is doing a great disservice to the meditative beauty this record possesses. Album opener “Highway Anxiety” wavers in its opening moments within the confines of a singular tremolo’d and delayed guitar that seems to be rolling down a metaphoric car window in the midst of a mid-afternoon rain as we careen down some unnamed road. The song picks up with some musical help from the likes of Wilco drummer Glen Kotche and Megafaun’s Phil Cook. This tune becomes a meditation on lonely road trips and the bigger ideas that come in and out of ones head during those late night stretches of blacktop bliss. The song fades into a patchwork of grainy Americana and galactic synth. “I’m Gonna Live Forever(If It Kills Me)” is a swinging track that brings to mind Bela Fleck’s lighter, acoustic moods and even some Wilco ala A Ghost Is Born’s “Muzzle Of Bees”. But this isn’t Tyler rehashing anyone else’s glory moments. Tyler takes familiarity and runs it through is very unique musical filter. What comes out is sepia-toned post-rock. Big sky prog.
Elsewhere, “Kingdom of Jones” is a cosmically ornamented acoustic picker. A golden-hued piece of steel string beauty that seems to have been anointed by the Almighty himself. “Albion Moonlight” has the spirit of Ry Cooder and Leo Kottke running through it with a helping of Red Red Meat in there for good measure. “Gone Clear” has a sense of urgency to it. A feeling of fading wonder; staring at some great galactic event in the sky and knowing at any second it will dissipate into the abyss of the big black nothingness. There’s such grandeur and heaviness throughout this record, and it comes to a head in this great song. “Sunken Garden” feels more earthbound. A sundown symphony. The musical equivalent of dusk. “The Great Unwind” is a prairie lullaby. It whisks you off from the preceding musical journey in a big and vast way. The stars fade and the road gets swallowed by the mouth of the horizon.
William Tyler makes music that can easily be described as country-ish. But what he makes is so much more than that. Much like calling a film like Paris, Texas merely a Western, you’re underestimating the impact of the art. Ry Cooder created a musical patchwork that emphasized the heaviness and existential drift contained in Wim Wender’s masterwork. Tyler’s work in the past, and especially on Modern Country is an ode to wandering thoughts and big ideas that come in those moments of quiet. The long car rides, staring into vast, open spaces, and even rocking a newborn to sleep as life moves on outside the bedroom window.
There’s a big world outside your four walls. Get out and see it. Modern Country is the soundtrack to that adventure.
8.5 out of 10