Written in 2021, in the wake of wrapping up another project, the songs on Glasshouse 1 and 2 ripple with an electricity that flows unforced. “If you’d asked me towards the end of 2020 if I’d even release solo stuff again,” Tullett remarks, “I’d have said ‘Right now I can’t see it happening, ever.’” The thought rings of a classic adage, that the best things come when we aren’t looking for them. Despite himself, the music poured out and Tullett found himself with twenty songs he realized he’d bound himself to produce.
Tullett is unusual in this sense of indebtedness to work. Once he gets an idea in his head — say, producing two instrumentally complex and vastly different albums at the same time — he’s compelled to follow through. He carves a path through meticulous structure — recording all the acoustic guitar in one go, all the drums over the span of a day. It’s this efficiency, in part, that lends such a clear throughline to his work. Though Glasshouse 1 and 2 are two decidedly distinct collections, they’re unified through a sense of temporality and the penchant for sweeping bittersweet that is such a hallmark of Tullett’s catalogue.
Throughout 1, the orchestration is lush while steeped in a profound sense of intentionality. Songs begin tight, wrapped around dark piano phrases like acorns waiting to burst open until they must, and do. The patience of these songs pays off, heightening the emotionality of the lyrics, often eerie in their murkiness. On ‘Aerials’, featuring S. Carey of Bon Iver, Tullett sings wistfully over a droning piano ostinato as strings fill in like watercolor around their voices. “Now I will meet this too / If I repeat its loop,” Tullett and Carey repeat like an incantation, the repetition mirrored in both form and content. On ‘Lifeforms’, strings expand and contract around Tullett’s voice as he muses on doubt, questioning in retrospect “Did I live all the time?” — the words subsumed in the cresting music, as if in a wave. Elsewhere, we get a glimpse of the guitar-based songwriting that will take center stage on Glasshouse 2, but with the same lyrical obscurity that renders grief palpable if not always directly named. On ‘Horsemen’, for example, Tullett seems to be recounting a sort of present-day apocalyptic dream. “Driving home, I heard a noise I liked / the four horsemen in the cab behind / shooting pains and a split spine / I ran”.
Album closer ‘Like a Giant’ acts like an anthemic portal between the two worlds on Glasshouse 1 and 2. Building over marching drums and cyclical piano, this song sees Tullett at his most raw and literal, grappling with the end of a partnership and the regret that comes with hindsight. “I wasn’t living / though I wasn’t feeling half as bad / I made a killing / Watch me be always / watching the exits out the back” Tullett sings soberly, bringing into the light a tender specificity about the heartache that permeates the two records.
This lyrical immediacy is a preview of what’s to come on Glasshouse 2. More reminiscent of the familiar full-band instrumentation on Holding, the second record by Tullett’s project Hailaker, 2 feels almost as if it were recorded live. There’s an open-armed intimacy to these songs, both in the unadorned way in which they’re produced, as well as in the content of the lyrics. “If I could / I’d let you down easier,” Tullett laments in a fragile falsetto on the chorus of ‘Easier’, pointing towards the sometimes inevitability of hurting the ones we love when caring for ourselves.
Grief aside, these are songs with hooks, songs to revel in. Tullett’s penchant for cathartic emotionality is present here in full force, even in a stripped-back, folkier context. “It’s so much further / but I like it there / I like me there / I like you there,” Tullett repeats at the end of ‘So Further’ over rootsy strings, the energy building. The simplicity of the production on 2 allows Tullett’s skill for melody to shine through brightly. Songs like ‘29’ and album closer ‘Keel’ call forth Wilco at their finest, most endearing and warm songwriting. These are refrains that invite you to sing along, to lose yourself inside of them.
Despite their stark differences, one senses that Glasshouse 1 and 2 are of a time, like two opposing sides of the same coin, staring out at the same landscape from different angles. This, like all of Tullett’s work, feels deeply intentional, the records mirroring two facets of an artist grappling with grief — the compulsion both to turn it into something beautiful, as well as the desire to be present with the rawness of what is.