Textures of sound wrap a muse around the emotions.
On listening to his collection of absorbing contemplation Tyler Fortier’s moniker undersells him. His ability to express his deepest thoughts with all their tales of what was, what might have been and what might lie ahead is very much the work of today’s man. Fortier interweaves happiness with sadness because life is rarely one or the other in isolation. He sets his poetic lyrics to a soundscape that swirls around his rumination, building up and fading away in complete step to the emotion. ‘Time Is A Sparrow’ may be relatively short but Fortier packs a double-album’s worth of feeling that should touch many listeners.
This is Last Year’s Man’s second album yet his real name rang a very distant bell. He had worked with Anna Tivel, creating a similar atmospheric vibe. She describes him, “He works tirelessly to build sonic landscapes, writes with honesty and abandon, and listens with a rare depth and care”. There, review done. Other comparisons include Iron & Wine and Gregory Alan Isakov.
Tyler Fortier is based in Eugene, Oregon where with his wife and musical collaborator, Erin Flood Fortier he is active on the north-west roots music scene. He applies his talents to album production, composing music for television and writing poetry. ‘Time Is A Sparrow’ encapsulates all three, the sound is richly cinematic without ever stifling the message contained in his writing.
In his late thirties, married with two children, Fortier opens with a reflection on how his youthful dreams have panned out. ‘Better Left Unsaid’ speaks honestly about some ideas best left alone as well as others that might have come to something. “I used to have something to say/ With a little blind luck along the way/ But you can’t open old doors/ and expect to get somewhere new”. His almost whispering vocal style draws in the listener but then looking ahead he bursts into orchestral sound for, “Falling down to get back up/ Is sometimes the only way to land/ There are silver linings all around/ but I’m coming up empty now”.
That electronica continues in ‘Spill The Light’ where Fortier looks outwards. The powerful crescendo confirms life is not that bad as Philippe Bronchtein adds a wistful pedal steel to Fortier’s thoughts. The title track is a stripped-back acoustic strum with a gentle beat and quiet keys, a very understated backing to Fortier’s grappling with time. Where has it gone and what is the point of being its slave?
‘Only Memories’ reveals Fortier’s darker side as he contemplates his own mortality. His musicianship is a constant throughout the record but such a multi-layered track still sounds the work of more than just him and Erin. In contrast ‘Right Where We Are’ blows gusts of warmth and hope. He sounds positively Dylanesque. For both sad and happy ‘Chasing Down The Sun’ observes how hopes and dreams that come to nothing do not stop us from keeping on trying. “Wait for the stars to align/ Find every dream lost on the wind/ What if we spend our whole lives/ Like ships in the night”. Peter Perdichizzi’s guitars are given full rein to shimmering effect. Fittingly for the closing track ‘A Different Light’ feels like riding off into the sunset. “There’s a whole other world inside my mind/ Half forgotten dreams and songs I’ll never sing” admits an acceptance of loss. Urgent waves of sound flit across Fortier’s bleak landscape as he hurries on.
An observation might be that there is a formula here, slow quiet openings that burst into vivid soundscapes but that would be harsh. Listen further and discover how the nooks and crannies of Fortier’s mind contain very different thoughts that are perfectly matched by his musicianship and that of his wife and other contributors. ‘Time Is A Sparrow’ is an ideal record to finish a year’s reviewing.