CD of the Month: Ryley Walker - "Course In Fable"
I believe we’re currently in a golden era for underground guitar music. Records, tapes, and CDs of highly skilled picking and strumming abound these days, especially in the eastern half of the US, and one player who’s no stranger to this scene is the Brooklyn-via-Chicago guitarist Ryley Walker. With a decade of releases on multiple labels under his belt now, he’s covered everything from hushed acoustic instrumentals to spacious psych-rock escapades, with even a Dave Matthews Band cover album in the mix. His most esoteric material has typically been saved for his collaborative work, but his solo records have been growing more dense and complex over the years. Walker started his own label last year called Husky Pants Records, on which he’s released his latest solo effort, Course In Fable, a culmination of his influences that feels like a high water mark in his career.
A promotional image for this album featured Walker holding what looks like a Genesis sticker, a band he’s confirmed his love for on his ever-amusing Twitter account, and the influence of prog is noticeable throughout the album in its twisting instrumental passages that shift on a dime, and his cryptic, knotty lyrics. Walker assembled a dream team band to take on his latest compositions, featuring frequent collaborators and fellow Chicagoans Bill MacKay and Andrew Scott Young on guitar and bass respectively, and his go-to drummer as of late, Ryan Jewell. The marquee name in the credits is engineer/multi-instrumentalist of Tortoise fame John McEntire, lending both of his skill sets to the fold. The playing on the album is not only extremely tight and cohesive, but also sounds fantastic, beautifully documented by McEntire behind the boards.
The album covers a wide stylistic range, all anchored by Walker’s agile guitar playing and Ryan Jewell’s nimble, propulsive drumming. Opener “Striking Down Your Big Premiere” flips between proggy flourishes complete with synthesizer and cellos, and wide, laid-back half time grooves, and right away you get a sense of how locked in the group is. The album’s first single “Rang Dizzy” is built on the deft guitar interplay between Walker and Bill MacKay, whose past experiences making guitar duo albums together becomes abundantly clear when you hear them twist and turn around each other. Standout track “Axis Bent” begins as the most straight-ahead indie rocker on the album, with an elastic guitar lead matched by McEntire’s equally noodly synthesizer. The song bounces along until a distortion-filled interlude presents a left turn, eventually pulling the rug out into thirty seconds of noise jamming, winking at the whole ensemble’s experiences in making freer music that sound more or less like this. Throughout the album’s tonal shifts, Walker’s lyrics remain enigmatic, with lines that I predict will take a few passes to absorb. As the music he makes has become more intricate over time, so too has the words he writes.
Ryley Walker continues to prove he’s a vital force in adventurous guitar music, and his latest solo album Course In Fable is nothing short of a creative peak.
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