William Tyler, “Modern Country”
William Tyler cut his teeth as an axe man for Silver Jews and Lambchop, but now he’s crafting his own cosmic folk universe with a singular aesthetic. That aesthetic is made manifest solely through his guitar and gorgeous backing band, though. Think of Tyler as a thoroughly modern vision of John Fahey with electricity and gasoline coursing through every note. His 2013 Merge debut Impossible Truth was a deft melange of ’70s singer-songwriter and country tropes, but on its follow-up (and Tyler’s fourth album overall) Modern Country, he firmly presses his foot on the gas pedal and snakes through the pastoral countryside of modern Americana with chrome flashing on all sides.
The alloyed finish that ties Modern Country together on songs like “Gone Clear” and “The Great Unwind” is Tyler’s backing band. This time it includes Wilco’s Glenn Kotche and Megafaun’s Phil Cook, who lend a sense of motion, pacing, and place for all seven tracks. For example, the acoustic “Kingdom of Jones” tips its hat toward the anti-Confederacy resistance in Jones County, Mississippi, that stood against the rest of the South during the Civil War. As Tyler plays his acoustic guitar, his band acts like a chorus of cicadas thrumming along—a honeyed summer musical in the midst of turmoil.
There are multiple examples of how Tyler takes what would normally be a tarnished mark on American history and illuminates it with hopeful light. Some narratives require a bit of subtext, but the imagination can run wild without the thematic framing (see: “Sunken Garden”). With Modern Country, William Tyler continues his streak as one of the most accomplished folk storytellers around, regardless of whether he uses words to do so.