William Tyler‘s Lost Colony isn’t quite a rebirth, but for being only three tracks deep there’s a surprisingly bold message that breathes through the release. “Tailor made for epic, exploratory road trips,” the EP is led by a pair of the guitarist’s catalog songs — now revisited with the support of a band — and closed by a “Kraut country” rendition of Michael Rother’s “Karussell.” Musically, the rounded-out lineup of players on the album follows Tyler’s 2012 Nashville’s Dead single, which stepped away from the solo-focused Behold the Spirit to deliver a full-bellied rock sound. However, now aided by drummer Jamin Orrall (JEFF the Brotherhood), pedal steel guitarist Luke Schneider (Natural Child, Lylas), and bassist Reece Lazarus, the newly revamped songs don’t try to rewrite the past so much as they build upon it.
Its title stemming from an inside joke about consciousness, album opener “Whole New Dude” is a renewal of “Man of Oran,” a sprawling Paper Hats piece from 2009’s Deseret Canyon. Not unlike with the EP’s second cut, “We Can’t Go Home Again,” which was originally issued on last year’s Impossible Truth, the expanded lineup helps fill out the song without abandoning the intricacies of the original. The fan in me wants to strike back at Pitchfork’s Winston Cook-Wilson, who criticizes the latter track in his review, writing “the [new] arrangement transforms the character of the song entirely, but it also doesn’t add anything to it.” Though, sharp as the position might seem, it’s not entirely off the mark. It just misses the point of the exercise, which might be to appreciate the subtle changes in approach when rebuilding something familiar from the ground up with a different set of tools. This music is about craft.
Replicating yesterday’s work delivers consistency, though it doesn’t necessarily lead to personal growth. As Tyler told me in an interview a few years ago, “I think anytime I find myself settling into a pattern of consistency I start panicking. So while, yes, there is a certain framework of tools and methods that you need in order to be able to do linear things like touring or even recording an album, the musicians/writers/humans I most admire are the ones who refuse predictability.” In this sense, the two reworked tracks seem to represent a challenge to his own predictability (a theme amplified by “Karussell,” which Tyler said was released to “explicitly do something that made everyone realize I was a fan of that kind of music“). But when playing The Stone Fox recently he closed the set with a performance of the Clean’s “Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” uncharacteristically stepping up to his microphone and adding vocals to the song while strumming along with a pick. It feels like something different is going on here.
Lost Colony might not be anything more than a temporary creative pivot, or it could lead to a whole new direction from the much beloved guitarist. Either way, it’s hard to draw any conclusions from 27 minutes of music. Regardless of intention, the songs do seem to represent something altogether different though. In revisiting the comforts of yesterday’s creations with an ever-maturing perspective, Lost Colony stands as a rather distinct plot point on Tyler’s evolutionary timeline. The EP demonstrates an ability to confront complacency with a refreshed sense of curiosity. Cliché notwithstanding, spring lends itself as a perfect time for this sort of personal change. And here we are, deep into the season, with a collection of songs that signifies how personal reinvention can begin with each new day.