The Meaning of Tyler Childers’ “Universal Sound”

Tyler Childers at the Charleston Music Hall in April 2019. Photo by Mia Naome.

“Universal Sound” stands out from Tyler Childers’ 2017 breakout album Purgatory for being the most cosmic song on an album that mainly focuses on a backwoods country sound. The album was produced by Sturgill Simpson, so it’s only natural that a little bit of psychedelic energy seeps through. It is especially fitting that they chose to do this on “Universal Sound”, as the lyrics speak to a deeper energy that connects all of us.

“Up in Pocahontas, near the Cranberry Glades,” Childers begins, “Ain’t got bars, nor the charge to call her anyways.” Here he is referring to the Cranberry Glades in Pocahontas, West Virginia, which is about as remote an areas as you can get, and he’s got no cell phone service but there’s a woman on his mind that he would like to call.

This sets the scene for Childers to expand upon a meditative energy, calming himself down with deep breathing and focusing on the “Universal Sound”. Now, this “Universal Sound” is an abstract idea that brings to mind a Jungian connectedness between all people. As the lyrics discuss, this is something that everybody can hear if they manage to quiet their minds.

In this way, “Universal Sound” is as much a song about connecting with nature as it is a commentary on the fast-paced life that we’re all living. Tyler Childers expresses the urge to get away from it all and return to his roots, citing the vices that have come between him and his own personal happiness.

What makes “Universal Sound” such a special song is that we can all connect with this idea of a connecting energy between humans and nature. It’s clear that Tyler Childers is no stranger to psychedelic experimentation with this one, and it ties him with a new kind of country music scene that has more in common with the jam band community than it does with traditional country artists.

While songs like “Feathered Indians” and “Whitehouse Road” ground the music of Tyler Childers firmly in the country territory, “Universal Sound” shows us that he also ponders the greater existence. It’s also a supremely chill song that brings about its own feelings of meditation, serving as a great vehicle for self-reflection.

Tyler Childers has written some truly timeless songs and many of them are included on Purgatory, the album that brought him from the hills of Kentucky into the mainstream spotlight. Listen to “Universal Sound” below.

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