William Tyler doesn't know who he wants to be when he grows up and thank God for that. His new album, his first on Merge Records and the second solo album of his career, is brave and virtuosic. More cohesive as an album than his first solo effort or his work with Lambchop, the Silver Jews, Bonnie "Prince" Billy and others, "Impossible Truth" paints an aural landscape that rises and falls with the roll of an imaginary topography.
Though it is cohesive, there are no straight lines in this travelogue of sound. Songs contain movement enough for an album: intricate fingerpicking, layers of guitars weaving in and out like a Celtic shield knot, riffs or melodies appearing, fading and surprising again.
Six of the eight songs on the album suggest a place or the going: "Country of Illusion," "Geography of Nowhere," "Cadillac Desert," "We Can't Go Home Again," "Hotel Catatonia" and "Last Residents of Westfall" are each beautiful places to visit. "A Portrait of Sara" is, perhaps, more fixed around a theme but it's only a matter of degree. "The World Set Free" is more of a study as well, but Tyler is ever moving on all the songs, zipping about as if on a motorcycle, like the one pictured on the cover, instead of a less-responsive, slower-to-turn vehicle.
"Impossible Truth" is both electric and acoustic and is often hypnotic. Songs follow movement through Celtic, raga and drone influences and the compositions are as likely to call to mind Bartok as Chet Atkins. Tyler sometimes sounds like Richard Thompson or Leo Kottke, sometimes like Mississippi John Hurt or Michael Hedges. Soaring slide guitar catches air as in the coda of Clapton's "Layla." The movement is constant and is never hurried; the song, like the album as a whole, takes precisely how long it needs to take to get where Tyler -- and the listener -- are going.
"Impossible Truth" will be released on March 19, 2013 on Merge Records.