Ryley Walker – Course In Fable – Album Review
by Killian Laher
Since 2018, Ryley Walker has mostly operated on the fringes with out-there collaborations and extended jam sessions being his main forms of musical expression. This is his first album of songs since 2018, back from the wilderness, if you like. There’s a will for the lad to succeed but if you’re hankering for the melodic simplicity of Primrose Green you won’t find it here. Walker has been exploring prog for the last few years and he has just made what is best described as a prog-folk album. With John McEntire (Tortoise/Gastr del Sol/The Sea and Cake) involved it’s probably not surprising. Opener Striking Down Your Big Premiere is knotty and complex but will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky, with added guitar fret-bothering.
Rang Dizzy reminds me of a post-rock take on Nick Drake’s Hazy Jane I, “I’m so fried…. fuck me, I’m alive”. The music is pleasant and intricate, and the lyrics are just a little cumbersome. A Lenticular Slap is busy and at times, wilfully obtuse with many musical twists and shifts. The tone of the album is exemplified by Axis Bent. It starts promisingly with nice melodic guitars before disappearing up its ass with needless percussion and… horns, goddamn it! Clad with Bunk is almost jazzlike 70s folk-rock. It plods along agreeably for three and a half minutes before a bluesy electric guitar takes over.
The seven minute Pond Scum Ocean opens with a disco beat and some seemingly aimless sounding guitar noodling, though it resolves itself into a very agreeable folk song despite the distracting beat. There’s a complete change of tack with the soaring closer Shiva With Dustpan and it’s by far the best thing here, evoking a lazy summery groove, almost a throwback to his older material, filtered through the smoky haze of his current prog sound.
While the album is intriguing and never dull, I would stop short at classifying this as a return to form for Ryley Walker. In Tim Buckley terms, he’s in the Starsailor period: to some, genius but others simply scratch their heads.
1. Striking Down Your Big Premiere
2. Rang Dizzy
3. A Lenticular Slap
4. Axis Bent
5. Clad WIth Bunk
6. Pond Scum Ocean
7. Shiva With Dustpan