William Tyler is a force of nature when he plays guitar, and though his previous records have been compelling and rich, his latest, Modern Country, is his most layered yet. Working with a full band that includes Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Tyler plays with a more melodic sound this time, making his guitar act as the vocals and lyrics we never hear in his strictly instrumental albums. The arrangements are moving and multi-faceted, with an emotional depth that shows Tyler’s continued growth as one of the greatest guitarists of his generation.
Though typically based out of Nashville, Tyler created Modern Country in Oxford, Mississippi, a city drenched in complex American history. Like it city, Tyler’s work oozes with complexity. It is easy when listening to conjure a visual narrative in your imagination, of the scenes that played out for Tyler when he was inspired to write these songs. Though only seven tracks in length, Modern Country treks a lot of ground from start to finish, moving with a never-ending curiosity. There is liveliness in “I’m Gonna Live Forever (If It Kills Me)”, and when its pace picks up, it’s invigorating enough to get you dancing.
“Sunken Garden” and “The Great Unwind” are fitting towards the end of the record, as they relish in a zen-like calmness that will ease your mind. The former plays with synth and dimension in an understated way that adds a hint of something otherworldly. By the time the latter builds to its fully formed melody, you’ll be swept away by Tyler’s expressiveness and subtlety with his guitar. It fades slowly, but you’ll hang on to every last note until eventually it disappears quietly.
“Kingdom of Jones” is a poetic and haunting folk song that plays out like a journey across vast landscapes, while “Albion Moonlight” incorporates a deep, southern twang before evolving into a psychedelic trip with its use of subtle sound distortion. “Highway Anxiety”, despite its title, is a romantic road song, and the album’s standout gem. It builds in the most beautiful way, with layer upon layer of sound and feeling. It’s the song that you’ll find yourself turning to repeatedly, playing it over and over to keep bringing yourself back to that magical place it transported you to the first time.