William Tyler: Goes West
You can predict the sound of a William Tyler record by its first notes. His first two albums began with horizon-wide strums, opening into collections of expansive, exploratory instrumental guitar music. But with 2016’s Modern Country, and now his latest, Goes West, Tyler’s first sounds are precisely finger-picked—leading to far more focused records that are beautiful, dreamy and adrift on some far-off Texas highway. With Goes West, the Nashville guitarist-composer constructs entire worlds with little more than his acoustic guitar, so immersive that the lack of any vocals slips by unnoticed. There are wily Southern marches like the rhythmic opener “Alpine Star” and more soothing, deliciously mellow cuts like “Not in Our Stars,” which moves with all the gentle radiance of a lapping wave. And yet the album also contains Tyler’s strongest hooks, if they can be called that—his sense of melody, not just texture and vibe, is at its sharpest. Considering the no-frills nature of his music, Tyler’s band is an incredible testament to the softspoken power he wields through his playing. Guitarist Meg Duffy, jazz legend Bill Frisell, Hiss Golden Messenger keyboardist James Wallace and Dawes drummer Griffin Goldsmith, all lend their services, while Tucker Martine (Sufjan Stevens, The Decemberists) engineered the record. A constellation of talent like this doesn’t align for just anyone. There has always been a sense of wandering, or constant searching, tying Tyler’s instrumentals together. On Goes West, that wandering gains some momentum and purpose. Songs like “Venus in Aquarius,” with its undulating guitar and somersaulting percussion, seem to be pushing forward. Toward what, exactly? Only Tyler knows. But we’re definitely along for the ride.