I’ve been listening to Chicago-based folk-rocker Ryley Walker maturing his music since his first full-length All Kinds of You came out on Thompkins Square in 2014. He gained critical acclaim for his second Primrose Green the following year, with its affinity for Moondance-era Van Morrison and other retro-style, soulful, psychedelic folk-rock sounds.
His new release Deafman Glance, his fourth for Dead Oceans, is at once a logical progression for Walker and something of a departure.
“I wanted to make something deep-fried and more me-sounding,” he says. “I didn’t want to be jammy acoustic guy anymore. I just wanted to make something weird and far-out that came from the heart finally. I was always trying to make something like this I guess, trying to catch up with my imagination.”
Eschewing the “jammy acoustic” thing doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot of really tasty guitar playing on this record. To the contrary. One track that caught my ear right away was the closer “Spoil With The Rest,” which starts off with an intricate fingerpicked pattern that is soon crashed by a tattoo on the snare drum that turns it into a driving indie-rocker with a couple of additional layers of guitar from – well, probably from Brian J Sulpizio and Bill Mackay, both of whom play electrics on the album, as does LeRoy Bach, who co-produced the record with Walker. You’ll also notice some very tasty and subtle synthesizer from Cooper Crain, who adds touches like that throughout, and who also engineered and mastered.
“ ‘Spoil With The Rest’ was, I think, the first or second tune written for the record in January of 2017,” Walker says. “I think it’s a really funny look at trying and failing. I tune the bottom two strings up a full step for this song. I always think I’m gonna break the strings when I play it live. Very fitting.”
I thought the flute sounds on the languid psych-folk opening track “In Castle Dome” were from a Mellotron (or some other synth with a Mellotron setting), but they could very well be actual flutes from fellow Chicagoan Nate Lepine. There’s flute and some sax from Lepine on many tracks, just one more touch that constantly reminds me of Summer of Love psych-rock when I listen to Walker.
You’ll find something more like soul jazz on the extended intro to the enigmatic “22 Days,” which settles into a lazy folk-jazz groove – think Pentangle here. Some of these songs really emphasize atmosphere and texture. The Topanga Canyon vibe of the first single “Telluride Speed” is full of shimmer and jangle from synth, guitars and flutes; “Can’t Ask Why” beguiles with windchimes and guitar tremolo and Walker’s sing-song baritone vocals. But then there’s the straight-ahead indie folk-rock of the second single “Opposite Middle.” Well, straight-ahead except for those occasional switches in meter, but then those have become almost expected in this kind of music, no? At opposite ends of Walker’s extremes are the acid-cabaret of “Accommodations” and the lovely acoustic fingerpicking of the instrumental “Rocks On Rainbow.”
These songs should be exciting when played live. Walker has an extensive tour this spring, summer and fall in Europe, the UK and North America. Details on his website.
(Dead Oceans, 2018)