William Tyler - Impossible Truth
A shimmering, uplifting psych-folk album influenced by 70s singer-songwriters
With gilded stints as backing guitarist to Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Silver Jews, Candi Staton and Lambchop under his low-slung belt, you might be inclined to wonder if prodigious fingerpicker William Tyler had the motivation, energy or indeed time to further express himself. But as his striking 2010 debut solo LP, Behold the Spirit illustrated, the mercurial Nashville axe-master has much to say, and does so in enthralling, rambling guitar meditations akin to those of John Fahey, Jack Rose or Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny (not to mention his Tompkins Square colleague and nylon-strung wunderkind, James Blackshaw).
Despite a lack of words, Tyler is generous in offering clues to unravel (or project) narratives on the Midwestern landscape of Impossible Truth. The record is, he says, ‘built around twin themes of apocalyptic expectation and the weight of nostalgia’. Touching on concerns such as diminishing water supplies and ghost towns, Impossible Truth was inspired by dark California tomes like Mike Davis’ Ecology of Fear and Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California (which, perhaps, Tyler warps into the dizzying, towering ‘Hotel Catatonia’). This sense of unrest resonates on track titles like ‘We Can’t Go Home Again’ and ‘Last Residents of Westfall’, and is writ large on the album artwork, a homage to an art deco nuclear fallout shelter built 25 feet underground in Los Angeles.
Yet, for all that, this is a shimmering, uplifting psych-folk album, as devoted to life and love and 70s singer-songwriters as it is fixated on dread and the end days. Tyler’s sublime guitar melodies, scorched bluegrass and ambling pedal steel are lyrical, literate and endlessly fascinating. While he is joined on occasion by the likes of Chris Scruggs, Luke Schneider, Roy Agee, and fellow Lambchop ally Scott Martin, nothing comes close to his solo alchemy and to that eloquent, bright 'voice'.
William Tyler plays Summerhall, Edinburgh, Sat 4 May, with Hiss Golden Messenger