12 O'Clock Track: The summery, engrossing instrumental guitar of William Tyler's "Cadillac Desert" | Bleader

12 O'Clock Track: The summery, engrossing instrumental guitar of William Tyler's "Cadillac Desert"


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The cover of William Tylers Impossible Truth
  • The cover of William Tyler's Impossible Truth
It's coincidental that I happened to watch In Search of Blind Joe Death, a documentary about John Fahey, at the same time that I've been playing William Tyler's latest album, Impossible Truth, on repeat. Like Fahey, Tyler is a guitarist who plays solo instrumental music, but I find the latter's style to be distinctly different. On his debut, 2010's Behold the Spirit (Tompkins Square), the Fahey analogy was more pronounced, since you could hear the same ghostly connection to American blues artists. But Impossible Truth has a backstory that lends it its own identity as an instrumental guitar album.

According to the press release on the Merge Records (which released Impossible Truth) website, Tyler was reading Barney Hoskyns's Hotel California and Mike Davis's Ecology of Fear while he was conceiving Impossible Truth. Both books are about southern California, filtered through the lenses of fear and narcissism, or a strange mixture of both. As a result, Tyler decided to try and aim for a 70s singer-songwriter album in his own style.

I'm not sure how much Impossible Truth recalls that genre—though it's a warm recording, it doesn't quite have the shopworn furriness of 70s analog—but like 70s singer-songwriter albums it does manage to yank deep feelings from the well of introspective music. Impossible Truth's cover (a Hipgnosis-style cut-up of Tyler, his motorcycle, a one-flat boilerplate suburban house, and Girard Henderson's underground Las Vegas home) recalls that of what's on many days my favorite album, Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece. Both albums depict the artist staring off into the distance, offset by light pastels and verdant landscapes that give them a colorful glow, though one surrounded by the specter of fragile melancholy and kaleidoscopic nostalgia. In that regard, Impossible Truth rather reminds me of two comparatively recent instrumental guitar albums, Jim O'Rourke's Bad Timing (1997) and Mark McGuire's A Young Person's Guide to Mark McGuire (2011), which also have their own singular feeling and sound, despite allusions to older records.

Below you can find the stream to today's 12 O'Clock Track, "Cadillac Desert," the third song on Impossible Truth. Like many of the songs on the album, it has a few movements. In the first, Tyler's circular playing is underpinned by what sounds like a hard, dramatic cello. In the second part, Tyler's string-plucking pace continues, but it's given a lighter touch thanks to a sunnier chord change and the introduction of softly wailing slide guitar. And in the third, the pace slows, just gentle strumming and fading slide guitar lightly swaying, like old friends sitting at a closing bar after a long night of casual drinking, exhausted after a night of storytelling and laughter. Tyler plays at the Hideout next Friday, and word on the street is that there's a Soundboard write-up forthcoming.

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