After touring as a guitar player with Lambchop
and Silver Jews
for over a decade, William Tyler
has tumbleweeded his way across the country enough times to be a scholar on the wonders of the American west. On Impossible Truth
, Tyler tumbles from the badlands of South Dakota, all the way to California, until finally rolling right into Laurel Canyon. That final destination was inspired by Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California
and Mike Davis’ The Ecology of Fear
—two books with a strange California-themed kinship that Tyler read on “lonely midwestern drives,” before blending their bizarre subject matters to form the nuanced story that is Impossible Truth
Rooted in the American west, “bittersweet nostalgia and apocalyptic expectation,” the album is a masterful foundation of traditional folk beneath layers of experimentation with surreal sounds and classical song forms. The colorful and cultivated vibe of Laurel Canyon in the ‘70s—when it was home to artists like Joni Mitchell and The Eagles—is captured with an array of guitars, but in the place of lyrics lies the enlightened plucking and picking of Tyler, the virtuoso guitar player whose “The Geography of Nowhere” was mistaken for some of Jimmy Page’s 12-string work by my dingbat little brother.
Psychedelic-leaning tracks like transcendent opener, “Country of Illusion”, reveal Tyler wielding a sitar, or at least some enchanting Eastern modal scale. Much of his sophomore album depicts him as a guitar genie, floating in a hazy cloud of hookah smoke that keeps mumbling hypnotic incantations to conjure images of eerie desert nights, cockamamie goose chases, dusty Cadillac cruises, and the rambling Appalachian trail. But his musical travels surpass his geographical ones. Judging by his use of repetition, melodic themes, and his choices in voicing and emphasis on different instrumental parts, this isn’t Tyler’s first rodeo when it comes to classical arranging techniques.
Incidentally, he’s a lot like composer Aaron Copland in his love for large song canvases and his vast set of musical influences; Impossible Truth is flecked with everything from jazz to psychedelic and Spaghetti Western. Maybe this kind of depth is more common with instrumental music, but regardless, this is an uncommonly good album.
Essential Tracks: “Country of Illusion”, “Cadialac Desert”, “The World Set Free”