Guitarist WILLIAM TYLER has crafted a spare and meditative soundtrack for filmmaker KELLY REICHARDT’S quiet frontier story, FIRST COW. It’s in-stock now at HORIZON!


American history has historically been painted on a large canvas. By purposeful contrast, KELLY REICHARDT’S FIRST COW is very small, a frontier story you can hold in your hand—Reichardt renders her version of America’s emergence as the gentle intimacy between two men, a purposeful pushback against the grand narratives of our past.

Reichardt occupies a unique position within American independent cinema; she’s a known name who regularly works with familiar faces, but the compass that orients her vision remains experimental. Films like Old Joy (scored by Yo La Tengo, and starring Will Oldham) and Certain Women are purposeful in their pacing, deliberate and meandering like a walk in the woods, but uniquely concerned with the organic beauty of Western American landscapes. In Japan, there’s a concept called shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” which means immersing yourself in the ambience of a wooded environment as you would soak in a tub—Kelly Reichardt’s movies always make me feel like I’ve taken a forest bath for a thousand years, renewed and revitalized like photosynthesis working its natural magic on a shriveled leaf.

WILLIAM TYLER similarly sits at the crossroads of accessible and avant-garde — he’s the son of the couple who wrote country standards for legends like The Oak Ridge Boys, but his instrumental Americana work approaches post-country. There’s an expansiveness to Tyler’s music that owes as much to ambient music as it does to John Fahey. Merge Records has released Tyler’s score for the film, along with snatches of dialogue, as MUSIC FROM FIRST COW. Reichardt applies a tiny lens to an overwhelming subject, so it’s only fitting that Tyler reduces the scope of his work in turn. His score is only one small part of the movie’s audio track, a subtle human presence within Reichardt’s typically rich palette of natural sounds.

Each cue builds on repeated themes, which Tyler introduces by way of lone electric guitar on “An Opening.” The film begins in the present day, but as a single cut takes us back over a century, Tyler’s signature instrument is swaddled with era-appropriate accompaniment, as a familiar tune is translated across varied timbres: toy piano on “Cookie’s Theme,” mandolins and banjos on “Arrival” and “A Clearing in the Field.” Emptiness and absence are key players; on “The Separation,” he lets the notes hang, the harsh slide of a guitar and faint piano keys suggesting the distance between human beings in this unknown landscape. The only time he is surrounded by a full ensemble is on “A Closing,” as our two drifters have been subsumed by a rigid world of capitalist civilization.

Tyler and Reichardt are both artists who flirt with pop structure while remaining committed to a more experimental ethos. But they are more than stylistic kindred; each uses their work to push back against the coming reality First Cow gently warns of. The problem with being an artist on the avant-garde frontier is that frontiers exist to be closed—through their union, William Tyler and Kelly Reichardt express a continued commitment to a harmonious existence between humanity and the landscape it inhabits.

Music From First Cow is in-stock now at Horizon Records and in our webstore, along with these other William Tyler releases:

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