Ryley Walker, “Course in Fable”
Course in Fable
Ryler Walker’s music just fucking rips—it’s music you can intellectualize, but take off your glasses and just enjoy the shred. His first few Dead Oceans albums sounded a bit like post-Van Morrison wispy folk-jazz, and before that he was deep in the solo instrumental guitar game. He’s come a long way to arrive at Course in Fable, an ecstatically powerful record of prog and jamming and lyrics that are just clever enough to not be silly.
This new album seems to be a reaction to all the music he’s made in the past—music he’s not at all ashamed of, but which serves as emphasis for how much more he’s into this new era of Ryley. In a press release for the record he sent out himself (he’s no longer working with Dead Oceans), he said, “Here’s a new INDIE ROCK record by me, ryley walker (small font on all the festivals in 2015 after an artificial wave of hype) recorded with john mcentire (TORTOISE/GASTR DEL SOL/SEA AND CAKE/STEREOLAB/BASTRO) I think its the best one so far. I have yet to resent it.” I, too, have yet to resent it. “Striking Down Your Big Premiere” is built upon a repeating, odd time signature groove that comes back to a cathartic set of power chords. Walker’s voice is typically stirring here, confident yet never really overpowering the complexity of his instruments.
Everything here sort of sounds like the work of a hipper Dave Matthews Band. It’s a really fine line he walks here, and he dances across the damn thing. John McEntire should be credited with a lot of this—the instrumentation is brilliantly recorded, crisp and exciting, always big but never overpowering. “A Lenticular Slap” marches alongside a military snare drum patter, the twirling guitar lines interweaving like viewing telephone wires from a speeding car. It’s a goofy romp of a track, and Walker’s ability to convey humor without ever cheapening his work is perhaps the strongest feat he accomplishes here.
One thing that’s indisputable about Ryley is that he’s a world class guitar player. Dude just knows how to pluck. He approaches the instrument from a unique POV―no two tracks here offer the same technique. Walker’s bag of tricks appears to be bottomless, or, at least as big as Mary Poppins’. “Axis Bent” conjures up feelings of a fall afternoon in the park, and while projecting Walker’s sobriety on this project feels a little disingenuous, it’s hard not to feel like the peppy vibe that spreads throughout the record comes from health or joy at finally being free. Regardless of where it comes from, it’s a delight to listen to. Ryley Walker is free and dancing with his best self.