[Thrill Jockey; 2012]

Alexander Tucker’s Dorwytch was released to almost universal acclaim. It may not have been covered on a wide variety of outlets (this very website was one that didn’t pick up on it), but those that did choose to cover it lavished it with praise generally reserved for artists much more hyped than Tucker ever has been. So, being the dutiful internet reader and music fan that I am, I went out and purchased the album, despite having never listened to any of Tucker’s previous five.

I’m a big fan of the blind buy, but this one was at first mildly disappointing. I brought Dorwytch home, slapped it on the turntable and prepared for the epic folk music that I was promised. I was not given that. Something about Tucker seemed distant. The folk music I’m used to is laden with emotion, and though the arrangements were stellar, I couldn’t get past the fact that he seemed a bit disinterested. Fast forward several months and I couldn’t bring myself to put Dorwytch away. With repeated listens, the distance seemed less of a flaw, and more a unique take on an often overplayed sound, and it is this that he continues to exploit on his latest full-length, Third Mouth.

That’s certainly not to say that Tucker’s brand of folk music isn’t “epic” as it is so often described. It’s just not epic in the sense of something like the Microphones. The arrangements on Third Mouth, as elsewhere in Tucker’s discography, are expansive, reaching beyond the general call of acoustic guitar to the banjo, cello, violin, and occasional stabs of electronics and guitar work. Closer “Rh” seems most representative of the way Tucker constructs songs, if perhaps the least representative of what Third Mouth actually sounds like. Its sub-Beach House organ rumbles and stately vocal take seem right in like with Tucker’s characteristic recontextualization of folk songwriting and song structures into more unique environments.

It’s rare that an album is so cinematically arranged and so entirely catchy as Third Mouth often is. The sweeping strings and intertwining vocal melodies of “Mullioned View” far outdo the Fleet Foxes types of the world in terms of general ambition and immediate wow factor, but what separates Tucker from these widely embraced folk stars– and what will ultimately keep him from ascending to their monumental heights (though that’s not necessarily a negative) — is this distance present in his songwriting. It’s something in his voice, in the way he constructs these songs, and the way he’s content to end tracks like “Mullioned View” with cold electronics that holds the listener at an arm’s length. That’s not to say that some of these tracks won’t draw you in, there’s just something about the way Tucker writes songs that will always be a little bit more unsettling than most of the acts that travel in the same ostensible genres.

Whether in the electric guitar and horn cacophony of “Amon Hen” or in the gentle lilt of “Window Sill,” it’s clear that Tucker, while clearly writing within the structures of folk music, is aiming for something much larger. Though his arrangements certainly reach those heights and the distance in his voice presents a significant difference from the omnipresent folksters on the indie scene, there’s something about ot that makes clear that this isn’t yet Tucker’s masterpiece. But it’s surely a step in that direction.