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RYLEY WALKER

David Grubbs & Ryley Walker

A Tap On The Shoulder

    You never know when that tap’s going to come. How about now? (Not for you to decide.) Or exactly what it means—except in the aftermath.

    Mutual admiration society and David Grubbs and Ryley Walker had been taking notes on one another’s playing for some time before they hit the stage together on a couple of blistering occasions immediately pre-pandemic. (One of these live sets was released earlier this year as Fight or Flight Simulator on Café OTO’s Takuroku label.)

    Studio sessions were clearly in the cards, and the result is A Tap on the Shoulder, a collection of duo performances that veers from crystalline instrumental compositions (“A Tap on the Shoulder,” “Accepting Most Plans,” “Dorothy Kept”) to animated alien chatterfests (“Leslie Steinberger”), and from ecstatic extrapolations charging this way and that (“Pump Fake on the Death Rattle,” “The Madman from Massachusetts in an Empty Bar”) to, I don’t know, words don’t do the trick (“Uglification”). Don’t think for a second that these shorthand descriptions suffice.

    Electric guitars make electronic music. Ryley’s hellion musical fearlessness lights a fire under the more typically Apollonian, chess-masterly Grubbs. What’s good for the geezer is good for the, etc. And where the duo’s live performances thus far have been set-length juggernauts, A Tap on the Shoulder toggles effortlessly between microscope, telescope, and Cinemascope, letting the smallest of gestures land in all of its sonic specificity before opening the scene up to disorienting panoramas.

    Listen to A Tap on the Shoulder in the context of Ryley’s glorious Course in Fable; listen to it in the context of Grubbs’s playing with Loren Connors, Jim O’Rourke, Taku Unami, and others; or listen to it as if you’ve never heard note one from these soulful odd birds, the two of them curiously, quixotically committed to working inside and beyond song form.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. A Tap On The Shoulder (5:42)
    2. Accepting Most Plans (3:04)
    3. Uglification (13:30)
    4. Leslie Steinberger (4:27) 
    5. Pump Fake On The Death Rattle (8:26)
    6. Dorothy Kept (2:50)
    7. The Madman From Massachusetts In An Empty Bar (7:53)

    Ryley Walker

    Course In Fable

      Ryley Walker currently resides in New York City. But his latest LP is a Chicago record in spirit. The masterful Course In Fable, the songwriter’s fifth solo effort, draws from the deep well of that city’s fertile 1990s scene, when bands like Tortoise, The Sea and Cake and Gastr del Sol were reshaping the underground, mixing and matching indie rock, jazz, prog and beyond.

      Walker spent his formative years in Chicago, absorbing those heady sounds and finding ways to make them his own. Even though he emerged at first in folk-rock troubadour mode, it makes sense that he’s arrived at this point; each LP has grown more intricate and assured, his influences distilling into something original and unusual. To put it simply: Course In Fable is Walker’s best record yet, full of active imagination and endless possibilities.

      Last October, Ryley went straight to one of the primary architects of the Chicago sound to make the LP. John McEntire, Course In Fable’s producer/engineer/ mixer, can rightly be called a legend for his work with Tortoise, Stereolab, The Red Krayola, Jim O’Rourke and countless others over a prolific career that now spans more than three decades. Seeing his name in an album’s liners is pretty much a trademark of quality.

      Another Windy City exile, McEntire is based on the west coast these days, working out of the Portland, OR studio he’s dubbed Soma West. On the seven songs here, he delivers the signature shimmering and pristine sonics he’s become known for over the years. But McEntire was also intimately involved with Course In Fable’s overall creative process. “I told him to take the mixes and have at it,” Walker says.

      The result is a rich, immersive affair — a headphones record if ever there was one. Course In Fable’s songs are twisty, labyrinthine things, stuffed full of ideas (Walker half-jokingly calls it his “prog record”). But no matter how complex it gets, the album is never overwhelmingly busy. Wiry guitars melt into gorgeous string sections (arranged by Douglas Jenkins of the Portland Cello Project). Tricky time signatures abound but feel as natural as can be. Melodies o@en dri@ in unexpected directions but remain downright hummable. Like Walker’s beloved Genesis, the pop element is never too far from the surface even when shit gets weird. (And speaking of weird, Ryley says that in addition to Genesis, much of the album’s inspiration comes from “Australian extreme scooter riders on YouTube and balding gear heads on Craigslist.” Go figure.)

      To help put together these various puzzle pieces, Ryley assembled a band made up of several longtime collaborators. Bill MacKay (another Chicago mainstay) and Walker have made two excellent instrumental duo records of interlocking guitars and warm give-and-take — a rapport very much in evidence throughout Course In Fable. The freakishly talented drummer Ryan Jewell has performed with Walker for years now in a variety of settings, from straightforward song-centric sets to blown-out improv extravaganzas. Bassist Andrew Scott Young (Tiger Hatchery, Health & Beauty) has logged many miles on tour with Walker; he and Jewell are frequently astonishing, a buoyant-but-always-locked-in rhythm section, able to navigate sometimes dizzying turnarounds with apparent ease. Listening to the interplay between Walker and these musicians and you might be fooled into thinking they’d spent a year road-testing Course In Fable’s songs. But it all came together relatively fast, thanks to demos, rehearsals and the kind of musical empathy that comes from years of playing together.

      Beneath the wondrous interplay, you’ll find some of Walker’s most personal – if still typically cryptic — lyrics, hinting at some of the trials the songwriter has been dealing with in recent years. Balanced with necessary doses of dark humour and oddball poetry, Course In Fable feels most of all like a life-affirming record, fresh air in the lungs, sun on your skin. “Fuck me, I’m alive,” Ryley sings at one point, a moment of both disbelief and pure joy.

      Walker has released his albums on a who’s-who of independent labels over the past decade — Tompkins Square, Dead Oceans, Thrill Jockey and Drag City among them. This time around, he’s doing it DIY-style, putting Course In Fable out on his own Husky Pants imprint. You’re in good hands. This is an album that sounds great (mastered by Greg Calbi), looks great (artwork by Jenny Nelson and design by Michael Vallera). It probably even smells great. Whether you’ve been onboard since the beginning or are new to the Ryley Walker universe, you’re in for a treat.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: Though we've seen a number of iterations of that Ryley Walker sound, it's great to hear him go back to the sound that drew me in in the first place. 'Course In Fable' touches upon the more avant-jazz leanings of his more recent output but lies firmly within the progressive full-bodied folk-rock ethos that made 'Primrose Green' and 'Golden Sings...' such essential listening experiences. Really marvellous stuff.

      TRACK LISTING

      1. Striking Your Big Premier (5:10)
      2. Rang Dizzy (4:50)
      3. A Lenticular Slap (7:54)
      4. Axis Bent (4:36)
      5. Clad With Bunk (6:15)
      6. Pond Scum Ocean (8:05)
      7. Shiva With Dustpan (5:43)

      On ‘The Lillywhite Sessions’, Ryley Walker and the similarly indebted trio of drummer Ryan Jewell and bassist Andrew Scott Young cover Dave Matthews’ infamously abandoned 2001 art-rock masterpiece of the same name, a record where he and his band indulged a new adult pathos and a budding musical wanderlust.

      With a delicate rhythmic latticework and vocals that ask you to lean in, ‘Busted Stuff’ recalls Jim O’ Rourke’s golden Drag City days. Emerging from a wall of distortion, ‘Diggin’ a Ditch’ becomes a power trio wallop à la Dinosaur Jr, shaking off existential malaise like twenty-something pals writing rock songs in the garage. Walker’s ‘Grace is Gone’, the most faithful take here, is a testament to his unflagging love for the music that helped make him a musician.

      This end-to-end interpretation of youthful fascination is a collective reminder that we are all just kids from somewhere, reckoning with our upbringing the best we can. Walker has stepped through the door long ago opened by the Dave Matthews Band to find a world teeming with musical possibilities. On ‘The Lillywhite Sessions’, he has, in turn, created his own.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: As well as being a VERY good follow on the ol' Twitter, Ryley Walker is also a superb chap and undeniably brilliant songwriter and musician. Although the songwriting doesn't really get a look in on this release (it being entirely covers), it is clear that his laid-back style and impeccable vocal performance is only improving. Even if you've never heard this Dave Matthews Band release before, I implore you to hear Walker's take on things. Stunning.

      TRACK LISTING

      Busted Stuff
      Grey Street
      Diggin’ A Ditch
      Sweet Up And Down
      JTR
      Big Eyed Fish
      Grace Is Gone
      Captain
      Bartender
      Monkey Man
      Kit Kat Jam
      Raven

      “I was under a lot of stress because I was trying to make an anti-folk record and I was having trouble doing it. I wanted to make something deep-fried and more me-sounding. 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. And I think I succeeded in that way — it’s got some weird instrumentation on there, and some surreal far-out words.

      I’m lucky enough to have some people who are playing on it who had a big part in shaping the songs and writing with me. Cooper Crain, the guy who engineered it, and played all the synthesizers. And when the flute guy, Nate Lepine came in, that was really something that made it special. The producer was this guy LeRoy Bach. I love LeRoy, he’s a really talented guy. He did the last record too.

      And it’s more Chicago-y sounding. Chicago sounds like a train constantly coming towards you but never arriving. That’s the sound I hear, all the time, ringing in my ears.” – Ryley Walker.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: Narcotics enthusiast and all-round ledge Ryley takes us on his newest journey into the wilderness with 'Deafman Glance', with the same tender plucking acousticry we've come to know and love, but with the psychedelic element all the more pronounced. Brilliantly progressive and nuanced songwriting with Walker's imitable style.

      TRACK LISTING

      1. In Castle Dome
      2. 22 Days
      3. Accommodations
      4. Can't Ask Why
      5. Opposite Middle
      6. Telluride Speed
      7. Expired
      8. Rocks On Rainbow
      9. Spoil With The Rest

      Ryley Walker

      Golden Sings That Have Been Sung - Deep Cuts Edition

      Ryley Walker is pleased to announce his new album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, coming out August 19th on Dead Oceans. It’s the triumphant follow up to his breakout album, Primrose Green, which earned critical hosannas from the likes of NPR, Village Voice, Uncut, and Mojo and admiration of musicians who had chalked up no shortage of turntable miles in Walker’s life. Robert Plant declared himself a fan – as did double-bass legend Danny Thompson, with whom Ryley embarked on a British tour.

      In November 2015, at the end of a ten-month period which saw Ryley play over 200 shows in support of Primrose Green, Ryley decided that he should probably head home. However you wished to measure it, he was surely due some sort of holiday. Although, a holiday was the last thing on Ryley’s mind – and certainly not a holiday in his adopted hometown. After a year spent on the road, all that Ryley could associate with Chicago was the emotional debris he had left behind.

      He went into the studio over the Christmas vacation to record Golden Sings That Have Been Sung whose songs were directly wedded to Ryley’s return to Chicago. Some of his formative musical memories had been shaped by the work of pioneering Chicago acts such as Gastr del Sol and Tortoise. “Jeff Parker was the guitarist with Tortoise, and I used to listen to him a lot,” recalls Ryley, who figured that, for the first time in his career, it might be helpful to enlist the services of a producer. With only one person on his shortlist, once again, all roads led back to Chicago.

      Ryley had been a long-time admirer of sometime Wilco multi-instrumentalist LeRoy Bach. Back in 2009, still in his teens, he had frequented the improv nights hosted by Bach at a restaurant/gallery space called Whistler. “For me, it was an incredible opportunity,” recalls Ryley, “…because you would sometimes also have Dan Bitney, the drummer with Tortoise, and I’d get to play with these people. I mean, they were twice my age. I’m sure they thought I was annoying at first, maybe some of them still do, but I kind of looked at them like gurus – and to have these old school Chicago heads taking me in was just amazing.”

      For Ryley then, the prospect of having Bach produce his album was something of a no-brainer. “It was everything I wanted it to be,” he enthuses. “I would go to LeRoy’s house every other day with a riff, and we would take it from there.” Perhaps more than any other song on the record, the somnambulant sun-dappled intimacies of opening track and lead single “The Halfwit In Me” most audibly bear the imprint of those Whistler sessions.

      Golden Sings That Have Been Sung was made for the dewy magic hour when night and day have yet to meet and, as long as the song is playing, you feel might briefly leave the corporeal world with them. This is the music you might imagine the woodland animals making once the humans have left for the night. This is Ryley Walker’s coming of age.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: Having been one of our end of year favourites in 2015, Ryley Walker had a lot to live up to with this follow-up (obviously he had impressing us in mind). It turns out that this is just as monumental, if not moreso. There is a sense of assurance here, a confidence gained through years of honing his craft. Perfectly sculpted Americana-tinged acoustic guitars are bolstered but never overpowered by frenetic violin slashes, molasses-slow drums perfectly compliment the unhurried and confident instrumentation. Walker and band have got a lot of bettering to do if they'll ever top this, but going on previous form, i'm sure they will. An absorbing and rewarding listen.

      TRACK LISTING

      2CD Tracklisting
      1 The Halfwit In Me
      2 A Choir Apart
      3 Funny Thing She Said
      4 Sullen Mind
      5 I Will Ask You Twice
      6 The Roundabout
      7 The Great And Undecided
      8 Age Old Tale
      9 Sullen Mind (Live At SiriusXMU The Loft)

      2LP Tracklisting
      1 The Halfwit In Me
      2 A Choir Apart
      3 Funny Thing She Said
      4 Sullen Mind
      5 I Will Ask You Twice
      6 The Roundabout
      7 The Great And Undecided
      8 Age Old Tale
      9 Sullen Mind (Live At SiriusXMU The Loft) - Part 1
      10 Sullen Mind (Live At SiriusXMU The Loft) - Part 2

      Ryley Walker

      Golden Sings That Have Been Sung

      In November 2015, at the end of a ten month period which saw him play over 200 shows, Ryley Walker decided that he should probably head home. The preceding months had been extraordinary. In March, his second album ‘Primrose Green’, emerged to critical hosannas from the likes of NPR, Village Voice, Uncut and Mojo and in the process earning admiration of musicians who had chalked up no shortage of turntable miles in Walker’s life. Robert Plant declared himself a fan, as did double-bass legend Danny Thompson, with whom Ryley would later embark on a British tour. A sprawling tour of the USA around ‘Primrose Green’ presented a perfect chance to workshop ideas for what would eventually become this, his third studio album, ‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’.

      ‘The Roundabout’ represents a symbolic return to Chicago, while other songs are directly wedded to Ryley’s actual return there. Perhaps more than any other song on the record, the somnambulant sun-dappled intimacies of opening track ‘The Halfwit In Me’ most audibly bear the imprint of Ryley’s improvisational sessions with Wilco multi-instrumentalist, Chicagoan and producer Leroy Bach, while ‘Funny Thing She Said’ is an unflinching study of separation set to a shimmeringly supple ensemble performance.

      Soft, slo-mo explosions of melody intermittently burst through the distant thunder of the verses on ‘A Choir Apart’. Intriguing, surreal images are meted out by ‘I Will Ask You Twice’, like a malfunctioning slide projector and, perhaps best of all, the stunning finale, ‘Age Old Tale’, which spiders out from an Alice Coltrane-inspired reverie into a sustained rapture that very few artists have managed to achieve.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: Having been one of our end of year favourites in 2015, Ryley Walker had a lot to live up to with this follow-up (obviously he had impressing us in mind). It turns out that this is just as monumental, if not more so. There is a sense of assurance here, a confidence gained through years of honing his craft. Perfectly sculpted Americana-tinged acoustic guitars are bolstered but never overpowered by frenetic violin slashes while molasses-slow drums perfectly compliment the unhurried and confident instrumentation. Walker and band have got a lot of bettering to do if they'll ever top this, but going on previous form, i'm sure they will. An absorbing and rewarding listen.

      TRACK LISTING

      The Halfwit In Me
      A Choir Apart
      Funny Thing She Said
      Sullen Mind
      I Will Ask You Twice
      The Roundabout
      The Great And Undecided
      Age Old Tale


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