The curse of making an album that’s hailed as great is that it haunts your career, rearing its head wherever you go, always an accolade and an albatross at the same time. In the wake of Primrose Green Ryley Walker was lofted up as the heir to knotted folk’s throne, though it always seemed that he had no interest in resting there for any length of time. That album’s follow-up, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, was a looser bar-rock exploration that was summarily panned for not sounding enough like its predecessor, for not settling onto the throne. It was an unfair assessment met with some frustration by the artist, and rightfully so. With Deafman Glance Walker firmly asserts that genre is an exercise and not a defining characteristic of an artist. He shirks once and for all the shadow of Primrose and leaves us with his darkest, most complex and delicately shaded album yet.
There’s hardly a trace of folk proper on Deafman, though it perhaps shows up most prominently in Telluride Speed with its woven plucks and autumnal flute. As with the majority of Walker’s works on the album, though, the simple bliss is shot through with bent jazz markers and frustrated electric runs. As the album progresses, Walker pushes a notion of texture over melody and the album begins to color in like an abstract painting with dark, furious patches in one corner and gorgeous, light swipes on the opposite edge. Don’t let that imply that the record has an improvisational nature, far from it. Like the best abstracts the seemingly jarred elements are planned and structured to look haphazard, but without the forethought the juxtapositions would never land.
Walker recorded the album in Chicago and has referenced the city’s sounds as an influence, one that can indeed be felt in the margins of Deafman Glance – the soul of a poet squeezed through the equations of Tortoise or Gastr del Sol. Lyrically, Walker’s still sitting in the corner of the bar, though this time there’s more whiskey and solitude than good laughs and cheap beer. The album is certainly ruminating in its heart, absorbed in itself for better or worse. With Deafman Glance, however, Walker has knocked out an album that’s as visceral and tactile as his early works are ephemeral and airy. This is a true step forward, and while there are certainly no hooks that are going to keep nudging you back, the innate desire to stare at Walker’s void and discern the depths is rather addictive.
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