Over the last few years, it has become quite clear to me that any major new solo guitar album from Bill Orcutt is destined to be an inventive, visceral, and damn near essential release. Unsurprisingly, Music for Four Guitars does absolutely nothing to disrupt that impressive run, yet I sometimes forget that Orcutt has a restless creative streak that endlessly propels him both outward and forward like some kind of avant garde shark. As a result, his discography is full of wild surprises, unexpected detours, and challenging experiments such as last year's wonderfully obsessive and completely bananas A Mechanical Joey, so anyone who thinks they know exactly what to expect from a new Bill Orcutt album is either delusional or not paying close enough attention. Case in point: Music for Four Guitars feels like an evolution upon Orcutt's Made Out of Sound approach of using a second track to improvise against himself, but he now expands it to four tracks and shifts to a more composed, focused, and melodic approach very different from his volcanic duo with Chris Corsano. Notably, this project was originally intended for a Rhys Chatham-esque quartet of guitarists and has been gestating since at least 2015, but COVID-era circumstances ultimately led Orcutt to simply do everything himself. As Tom Carter insightfully observes in the album notes, this album is a fascinating hybrid of the feral spontaneity of Orcutt's guitar albums and the "relentless, gridlike composition" of his electronic music that often calls to mind an imaginary Steve Reich-inspired post-punk/post-hardcore project from Touch and Go or Amphetamine Reptile's heyday.
Given how much time I have spent enjoying a handful of Bill Orcutt's recent masterpieces, I occasionally forget that he has been releasing albums for roughly three decades and his scrabbling, explosive improv eruptions are just one stylistic choice in an endlessly evolving body of work. I bring that up because Music For Four Guitars makes it clear that Orcutt could probably churn out killer riffs, intricate countermelodies, and inventive harmonies in his sleep and would seemingly be perfectly at home channeling his inner Glenn Branca, Built to Spill ("In The Rain"), Gang of Four ("From Below"), or art-damaged '90s emo band like Departures and Landfalls-era Boys Life if he felt like it. All of those stylistic threads appear in varying forms here and the determining factors tend to be whether Orcutt is inclined to craft a tense, jerkily staccato rhythm ("A Different View"), sharpen a melody with a spiky counter motif ("Two Things Close Together"), or do both at once ("In Profile").
At other times, Orcutt seems intent on channeling a locked groove escaping its confines or some kind of spasmodic mutant blues, but the results are invariably singular, melodic, and sharp-edged. If I had to glibly describe the album with one concise phrase, I would probably go with "sounds like a No Wave Steve Reich," but I would also have to add the caveat that Music For Four Guitars feels quite different from other artists in that vein (such as Chatham and Branca).
The difference is subtle yet important, as Orcutt seems to be arriving at a similar place from the opposite direction: this is not post-punk stretching into the realm of high art–it is high art sharpened into slashing, snarling, and convulsive two-minute sketches of noise-damaged post-punk urgency (most of the time, at least). As a result, this is yet another stellar album from Orcutt and also a very different animal from his other recent classics.
While I probably still prefer the more fiery and spontaneous-sounding side of Orcutt's formidable oeuvre overall, a strong case could be made that a piece like "Two Things Close Together" condenses virtually everything that I love about his work into a single near-perfect diamond.