Release Date: Jun 30, 2017
Record label: Palilalia
Bill Orcutt is a mid-career eponymous release. This is a familiar signifier of artistic reinvention. Recently, Slowdive and Dirty Projectors partook in this cue to highlight reunion and breakup, respectively. From a marketing standpoint, the mid-career self-titled release can also demonstrate the creative director’s intent to introduce the artist to formerly unfamiliar audiences.
Bill Orcutt's guitar playing has an apocalyptic energy. Harry Pussy's blown-apart blues records and the torrent of solo acoustic records he's made since 2009 are rather far apart compositionally, but they're united in the frantic way he chews up and spits out his instrument. Low parts rumble like mushroom clouds on the horizon. Piercing trebly plucks buzz like swarming locusts.
After nearly a decade spent exploring post-noise American Primitive guitar moves on a dubiously functional acoustic with missing strings, Bill Orcutt finds its titular protagonist dragging electricity back into the mix. Rather than blow us out of the room, though (as he may've back in his days with '90s confusion-core paragons Harry Pussy), Orcutt here uses the electric guitar's possibilities for space and sustain to explore new, sometimes surprisingly palatable (to normie ears, I mean) vistas. The scrape and moan of Orcutt's previous solo work is muted and relatively tamed, but this does nothing to make it less interesting, even as it increases his potential appeal to fans of jazzier explorers like Nels Cline and Henry Kaiser.
It seems avant garde guitarist and improvisational firebrand Bill Orcutt may be mellowing in middle age. Where before his music often bordered on the unlistenable as it clashed and thrashed against any traditional notion of structure and melody, he now seems content to work within an established framework. Ever the avant gardist, however, he sets out to destroy said framework from the inside out, scattering the myriad fragments and sonic shards within a barely contained space.
(Audio is annoyingly embed-protected, but you can listen to it here.) Bill Orcutt's record sleeves appropriate a gallery of iconic figures in ways that say, "what's yours is mine." You think he plays the blues? He'll give you a gallery of Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar picks. You think he's a boss guitarist? He'll give you a mash-up of Jimi Hendrix and Barack Obama. But even when he's messing with you, there's truth to be found.