Ryley Walker: Course In Fable – album reviewRyley Walker: Course In Fable

Husky Pants Records

LP | CD | DL

Released 2nd of April, 2021

With a hint of moral storytelling in its title, Course In Fable is the first LP in three years, featuring Walker’s original material. Following two collaborative albums – a psych-folk ‘diptych’ Deep Fried Grandeur and atmospheric watercolour-ish Little Common Twist, this work feels more elaborate and less impressionistic.

Still, the comparison with fine art is congruous. The sound texture of Course In Fable feels as transparent and multilayered as the pastel-coloured cover. It features an abstract painting by American artist Jenny Nelson – the work which is emblematic of the record’s beguiling complexity. Entitled Looking/Seeing, it seems to speak of finding order in chaos – one of the underlying themes of the record.

Recorded with a fellow Chicago-born producer John McEntire, Course in Fable feels like a peaceful homecoming for the artist, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. Questioning himself on the second track Rang Dizzy, Walker seemingly provides the album as an answer: “I sat in the lawn wondering “should I dose again”? / Or just break into song with Illinois flowers.”

McEntire’s producer credit summons up a certain archetype of sound which is indeed present on the record. The transparency that makes all parts sonically distinct, keyboards that with the light touch of McEntire add another dimension to Walker’s guitar. The unity that brings to mind Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad and, expectedly, overtones of Tortoise, particularly on Axis Bent.

The droll and poetic nature of Walker’s songs is perfectly delivered in this setting. With bizarrely enigmatic lyrics, the musician often throws the gauntlet to his listener to go down the rabbit hole of thoughts. The opening track, Striking Down Your Big Premiere, starts with a baffling metaphor: “If I could wear a capsule / Of all the world’s hairline fracture / The biggest wig in the show.” Yet, the tone is light-hearted, the mood is vibrant and tranquil at once.

Musically, Striking Down Your Big Premiere sets the course for the prog-inclined journey. The multipart composition absorbs the listener into a sonically elaborate realm. A passage, where guitar and keyboard join forces in rollicking arpeggio, presents to the mind rays of the sun as if they suddenly pierced the gloomy texture of a nimbostratus. Swinging from major to minor, the musical palette combines intricate brushstrokes a-la pointillist art.

The longest number, exceeding eight minutes, fluid A Lenticular Slap finds the balance free jazz improvisation and folk song. The patchwork-y soundscape is clad in elevating modulations and arpeggios. Intensified by rollicking polyrhythmic patterns, this composition is a twisted journey along the trail of a strenuous difficulty. Unpredictable and exciting.

The discography of Ryley Walker presents this artist in constant motion. Course in Fable might surprise as a record where sophisticated texture and pop elements co-exist. Nevertheless, as much as other works by him, this album is driven by an exuberant love for music. And, perhaps, more than others, it manifests the artist’s reconciliation with himself.

Pre-order Course In Fable now from Bandcamp.

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All words by Irina Shtreis. More writing by Irina can be found at her author’s archive.

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