Bill Orcutt
Photo: Courtesy of the artist via Bandcamp

Bill Orcutt’s ‘Music for Four Guitars’ Is a Masterpiece of Mantra-like Precision

Bill Orcutt’s Music for Four Guitars is at once unlike anything he has ever released and a logical distillation of whatever has come before.

Music for Four Guitars
Bill Orcutt
2 September 2022

Most musical artists’ growth periods taper off after a while. Perhaps they have a good decade run before exhausting concepts. Maybe they continue to make exciting and worthy music over several decades without adding much new to the initial conversation. Of course, there are exceptions to this, with most falling outside the pop mainstream. Bill Orcutt is a case in point. It’s been 30 years since his low-note detonations, and jagged shards of calculated intensity with his band Harry Pussy assaulted audiences and sound people alike.

Admittedly, some 12 years elapsed between that band’s late 1990s demise and the first Orcutt solo rumblings began appearing, often on his own Palilalia imprint in small vinyl runs. Yet, because he spits out so many albums, usually solo but often in tandem with free drummer Chris Corsano or others, as well as experimental, Steve Reichian, computerized micro-releases on his other label, Fake Estates, it’s the more official albums that track his trajectory. Recent records, such as 2017’s self-titled album of nearly unrecognizable covers and 2019’s Odds Against Tomorrow, show an artist increasingly capable of intense beauty. He still traffics in fits of angular dust storms, but he has shown a developing lyricism and restraint.

Music for Four Guitars is an even more precise, disciplined beast than his other guitar-focused releases. Perhaps this record can be seen as a distant cousin of his Fake Estates releases, with its use of layers and repetition instead of the typical improvisations from which his tunes are typically constructed. Planned for a four-piece guitar quartet but ultimately played entirely by Orcutt, the guitars here are all bridge-pickup treble, crisp, clear, and unwaveringly complimentary. One is welcome to hear connections to Captain Beefheart’s solo guitar miniatures or Robert Fripp, but neither of those artists relied on the type of hypnotic drive found here.

“Seen from Above” is a solid example of the riff as catharsis, as the layers buzz under and above the central groove, shifting subtly to supply some harmonic release. “At a Distance” is a snapshot of joy. First one guitar, then more, gnash away at a pattern so determined and celebratory it’s almost too much to bear. A more gorgeous excursion for multiple electric guitars, there isn’t. “On the Horizon” slows things down a bit, revisiting the kinds of frazzled punk-blues riff you might hear on an old Harry Pussy record. But here, there’s a stately elegance, a methodical allegiance to tempo and pattern.

Music for Four Guitars is at once unlike anything Orcutt has ever released and a logical distillation of whatever has come before. While its taunt, clipped patterns, and track brevity likely make it the most accessible record he’s made, it shows an artist capable of profound yet unhurried growth.

RATING 8 / 10