Review: ‘Music for Four Guitars’ experiments with hypnotic simplicity

Bill Orcutt continues to push the boundaries of simple melody.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The latest solo project from Chris Corsano-Bill Orcutt is one with four guitars, all played by him. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Holden Lay, Staff Writer

Bill Orcutt’s latest solo project is a brief and gorgeous glimpse into his unique bluegrass and blues-infused approach to avant-garde instrumentalism. Coming hot off the heels of last year’s stunning “Made Out of Sound” — the latest entry in a series of records with longtime collaborator and experimental drum extraordinaire Chris Corsano — Orcutt focuses on developing an intricate arrangement of overdubbed guitars to innovative effect.

With a spirit reminiscent of the avant-garde virtuoso Glenn Branca’s compositions for the guitar orchestra — albeit more melodically inclined — Orcutt plays four guitar parts over the 14 songs, each under three minutes, that make up his latest album. These tracks, made up solely of geometric, dissonant interplay, often end seemingly just as they have begun to show their full potential. Admittedly, the brevity of these tracks, as well as their understated titles such as “In profile” and “Seen from above,” can make it hard to recall specific favorites. Despite this, the end record is a thrilling and strangely heartwarming exploration of the power of simple melody, showcasing Orcutt’s knack for building beautiful sounds out of nothing, then just as quickly whisking them away.

The general arc of the record moves from angular and percussive compositions toward a more melodic and expansive sound by the end, showcasing the emotive power of Orcutt’s instrument. The opening track, “A different view,” is a fiercely clanging minor-key piece that seems to set the stage for an album with a grim mood. However, by the second-half standout and perhaps the record’s greatest composition, “Glimpsed while driving,” Orcutt explores a wide range of emotions. Using few effects or studio trickery, his devotion to minimalism and ability to elicit such visceral feelings through it highlights his mastery of the instrument.

The interplay between the changing moods and compositions quickly becomes overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost in the waves of his melodies, which makes the moments on tracks such as “In profile”— where he disrupts these precarious layers with moments of abrupt distortion — feel even more arresting. 

In limiting himself to simple musical arrangements, Orcutt allows the tracks on the record to retain an especially lively immediacy. “Music for Four Guitars” is both technically and sonically impressive, and sure to appeal to instrumental guitar fans and curious listeners alike. Orcutt’s ability to balance listenability with his experimental ambition is a testament to his strength as one of the most innovative and exciting guitarists around.

Contact Holden Lay  at [email protected].