Ryley Walker has always had his finger on the pulse of new and enterprising musical directions, but on Course in Fable, he’s blazing a bold and entirely unique trail.
Available today from his own mini-label, Husky Pants Records, on vinyl and CD, this album finds Walker fusing all sorts of disparate things together, like jazzy break-neck time signature changes with pastoral string and folk rock sequences, and tight prog rhythms with viscerally chaotic noise. You can never tell exactly where a song’s going to go.
Take for instance the wild “Axis Bent.” The song begins with a moderately conventional “indie rock” sound, with acoustic and electric guitars trading licks over a catchy beat as Walker delivers cryptic lyrics in a serene but blunt tone. Then the guitars rev up their distortion and the chord progressions become more complicated, all before a bizarre solo emerges through the electric haze that sounds like a trombone hooked up to a talk box. From here, the song segues into total anarchy. Clattering and clanging percussion clash with rabid guitar outbursts and then the track finally finishes…by returning to the peaceful alternative rock vibe that it started out with. It almost feels like this piece is really three separate tracks spliced together. Despite that, these three vastly different sections somehow flow into each other so naturally.
This brings to mind a major strength of the album, which is the mixing and production work of Tortoise’s John McEntire, who also plays synths, keys and vibraphone on the record. He helps to give the record a sculpted feel. Every song feels rich and deeply layered to the point that they sound alive.
Also bringing their A-game to the proceedings are some of Walker’s longtime collaborators, like Ryan Jewell on drums/percussion and Bill MacKay on guitar and piano. They help to flush out the sound of the record and really nail the nearly avant-garde rhythms and atmosphere. Without their input, the record would surely be far less dynamic and compelling.
Other highlights on this fascinating LP include the half-motorik raga/half-bucolic folk rocker “Pond Scum Ocean,” the stunned positivity of “Rang Dizzy Inside” and the blissfully epic opening track, “Striking Down Your Big Premiere.” All of the songs here carry an evolved sense of lyrical maturity and instrumental prowess. This might be Walker at the height of his powers.
Click here to pick this album up for yourself (and don’t wait! Today’s Bandcamp Friday!)