For his first record full studio LP on his own Husky Pants Records, Ryley Walker draws together parallels from his past while pushing the record further from his pastoral folk beginnings. In the sunlight of sobriety, Walker has immersed himself in instrumental experimentation, racking up collaborations with Charles Rumback, Bill MacKay, Steve Gunn and Ryan Jewell, J.R. Bohannon, Kendra Amelie and Kikagaku Moyo. He’s been plumbing the depths of the unspoken soul on records that nudge his playing into tangled visions, but have more or less left his voice out of matters. His first foray into a vocal record in three years finds him plucking a few of those collaborators back into the mix, while keeping a nice tie to his Chicago roots. With an eye on the ambitions of his hometown’s post-rock past, he’s brought the legend, John McEntire (Tortoise, The Red Krayola) on for production and keys along with MacKay, Jewell, and bassist Andrew Scott Young. The record that emerged from McEntire’s Northwest studio is touching, self-deprecating, and as complex as anything in Walker’s catalog.
While I know that Walker has admittedly gone through a real Genesis phase during the recordings, they don’t feel as prominent to me as the shadow of prog-folk platters from Roy Harper, later period Tim Buckley, and the Suite years of Tim Hardin. There’s a smooth veneer to the record that might harken back to Ryley’s Primrose Green, but this time around he lets the cracks show through and the improv soul saturate — breaking the stride on “Axis Bent” or downshifting styles on “Clad With Bunk.” Still, with his Genesis touchstone, he’s blending the wide-ranging touches on Course In Fable with enough pop to keep keep the record from getting bounced out of the indie bin and into the ‘Out’ row in the record shops. There’s always a simmering feeling that the band will explore edges of the infinite, and they do for a time on “Pond Scum Ocean,” but Walker and his cohorts have perfected perching the slicked edged that runs between havoc and hooks. If we all get to live on that edge a bit more, we should be so lucky, but I’ll take the seven runs at it here and just put ‘em on repeat.
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