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William Tyler: Goes West

William Tyler: Goes West

The modern hipster bows to Austin and New York as much as San Francisco.

William Tyler: Goes West

3.5 / 5

“Go West, young man,” just doesn’t have the same ring to it any more. America has been thoroughly tamed, and the pockets of weirdness aren’t contained to a coast. The modern hipster bows to Austin and New York as much as San Francisco. But maybe the destination isn’t the point at all. That’s clearly what William Tyler thinks. Through his solo catalog of guitar-propelled, instrumental tunes, he’s always created a sense of forward motion. Train car-hopping, couch-sleeping hitchhiking songs are his core vernacular, and that goes doubly so for the uneasy jaunt of Goes West.

It would be easy enough with Tyler’s prodigious talent to just coast on pleasant sounds. But despite the torpid tempos, Tyler aims to do anything but. Opener “Alpine Star” is a fine introduction, shoving the kitchen sink and more in its five-and-a-half-minute run time, including a lovely, spaghetti Western-esque close. It’d be easy enough to slide a Damien Jurado or Neko Case above these songs. Considering their wavering paths, in and out of keys, those twin story tellers would do well above Tyler’s crooked logic. The piercing notes of “Man in a Hurry” accent detours into minor modes, like a flash flood crashing out of a sunny sky. Even when he does indulge in positive vibes, there’s a pinch of distortion at the edges. “Venus in Aquarius” almost gets into saccharine, Mac DeMarco territory, but feels more nuanced with the chugging rhythm never letting Tyler’s guitar sleep.

There are also singular moments of beauty. Tyler will often refuse the traditional solo and instead rip into a cascading guitar line that seems to ripple out forever. “Eventual Surrender” has one of these, as handsome as it is comforting. The closing moments of “Not in Our Stars” reaches a cozy crescendo, light slide guitar backing up sudden chord changes bursting out in time with tasteful cymbal crashes.

If there’s anything holding Goes West back, it might be how overstuffed it can feel. Live, Tyler can control the crowd just through the vortex his guitar provides. All of the excess noise feels like clutter, getting in the way of his playing. The production itself is often velveteen, plush and occasionally puts a soft focus on the eerie sections that should be played out like a squall. Fellow guitar virtuoso Nathan Salsburg solved this by making the starkest album possible in last year’s Third. In this case, less is indeed more, with the traditional pop structures placed on Goes West feeling pre-fab and constraining.

Still, at its best, it’s hard not to be simply carried away by the constant, pleasing motion. “Rebecca” is about as stripped back as it gets, only a few atmospheric glimmers in the background and a soft piano accompanying Tyler’s dexterous plucking. And how can you hate the title-of-the-year worthy “Virginia is for Loners”? So Goes West is a bit too restful at times, even lounging, but the Tyler propels it on.

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