On Thursday night I found myself in church. As someone who has been an atheist since starting discovering science fiction at the age of twelve, St John’s in Bethnal Green was an unlikely venue for an evening’s entertainment, but William Tyler was playing and a church turned out to be the perfect venue for his beautiful acoustic guitar finger-picking.
Tyler is a guitar player with Lambchop, Kurt Wagner’s alt-American collective, but has now also forged a name for himself as the composer and performer of gorgeous guitar symphonies. Strictly speaking that is a mis-use of the word “symphony”, which I believe describes music composed for a full orchestra, but Tyler’s songs do often sound like they are being played by at least three guitarists, so it is a jolt to see him take to the stage entirely alone besides a sole acoustic six-string.
The songs on new album Goes West, from which most of Thursday nights’ set was taken, are so lush that Tyler has correctly decided they did not need lyrics. This is not, however, a musician who shuns the microphone, indeed Tyler turns out to be a bit of a raconteur. Thus, by way of a tale that starts with his being asked by a Eurostar passport control officer in Brussels if he needs a drummer for his band audition, we learned that his stock answer to “authority figures” who ask what he does for a living is to say he makes music that is “something like the mellow bits of Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin”.
Later, Tyler chats about how Our Lady of the Desert, the album’s closing track, is a musing on things we can’t control, like earthquakes in Los Angeles, where he has recently moved. I missed which track was inspired by Dr Strangelove, but I liked the sentiments that it is a film that renders it impossible for the viewer to ever again take the military seriously.
My vinyl edition of the album comes with a student-wall sized poster of abstract cover art featuring desert and trees, which might explain another song-related anecdote about tourists being under-prepared in the water bottle department when visiting the Joshua Tree. But it will take a more erudite listener to work out what the green cube with and eye and an ear is all about, or why the sand dunes are drifting in through a window.
No matter, on Goes West William Tyler has lovingly crafted music that draws you in and allows the listener to attach there own stories to it. If the church pews hadn’t been so uncomfortable I could have sat and listened all night. Instead, as Storm Hannah blows across the British Isles, Ms Markontour and I are settling in for a Saturday afternoon of aural enjoyment, courtesy of Goes West revolving on my old System Dek record player, which has been turning scored wax discs into sound waves for about as long as William Tyler has been playing guitar. We don’t quite have the acoustics of St John’s, but the sofa is more comfortable.