Ryley Walker’s latest LP pushes the artist’s songwriting to ambitious heights, moving from the post-rock punch of Deafman’s Glance to an elegiac, prog-dipped folk that touches through Buckley and Harper territory. This time around he teams up with some Chicago post-rock luminaries, including Tortoise’s John McEntire in the producer’s chair. Add to this his recently released collaboration with Kikagaku Moyo that lays out an album-long psychedelic journey into the abyss and this year’s shaping up to be a big one for Walker. Aside from his music, Ryley’s also a well-known around the social hubs as an avid listener and fan, offering up divisive opinions on what constitutes a classic, and oftentimes converting non-believers during the fray. Naturally that lends itself well to the Hidden Gems column and I couldn’t wait to see what Ryley picked out. Not to disappoint, Walker’s scoured the used CD racks for a ‘90s cutout that may well have escaped quite a few ears, despite its prominent indie label backing. Check out how Swell’s Too Many Days Without Thinking came into his life and the impact it’s had on him.
“As much as I take from UK Folk/Prog/etc,” admits Ryley, “my favorite music was and always has been 90’s indie rock stuff. Digging deep into that world is as endless and rewarding as any dusty dollar bin sort of situation. I got into Swell from $1 CD bins at Reckless Records in Chicago. I recommend anybody visiting Chicago to go to Reckless and explore that bin. For me, it’s the best treasure trove in the biz. So many 80’s/90’s CDs for less than a latte. I have never abandoned CDs. I grew up on them, and continued to buy them as the format declined. I’d like to think people are enjoying them again, and see a value beyond the plastic packaging. People are dumping their collections of killer shit and they re-sell for next to nothing. If you’re broke as a joke like I am- its the best way. Aesthetics of a cottage core apartment be damned.”
“Swell is one of those bands,” Walker notes. “An SF indie rock band from the 90’s that kinda blipped, and faded away. I really don’t know too much about their story beyond they were once signed to Rick Rubin’s American Recordings and Beggars Banquet. I’ve met maybe two other people who are obsessed with them. It’s this brilliant downer acoustic guitar driven rock band. Not in any sort of flip-flop way. Just brainy, stream of consciousness paranoia with great riffs. I put them up there with Pavement and Built To Spill as West Coast-ish beauty. This record in particular is the shining highlight of their catalog.”
“I’m attracted to any music that is self aware and self effacing,” reflects Ryley. “I take from this style directly in nearly every note I play. I feel like more of a music fan than an artist; fake it til I make it sort of thing. Any humility and honesty in music is something I appreciate. I’m not against ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A.’ I appreciate it very much. I’m just happy to play the stinky clubs and never have people sitting down or having to think much. Music for me is fun, and a temporary relief from stocking the shelves at a Big Lots or something. That music speaks to me.”
I have to admit, I myself had missed on Swell, but as I’ve noted above, Ryley can make a convincing pitch on why a band should be on your shelves. The band lasted much longer than I would have guessed, given the context here, recording eight albums between 1989 and 2007. As Ryley mentioned they spent the majority of their time on American and Beggars Banquet for those releases. The CD can certainly be picked up for a few bucks these days and it appears they even did a short-run LP, though as is often the case with anything pressed in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s it’s gonna run ya and it’s probably going to ship from a shop hoarding it in Japan. Nab one where you can and while you’re at it, slip a copy of Ryley’s Course In Fable into your cart.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.