Ryley Walker

Deafman Glance

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AllMusic Review by

Ryley Walker is a restless bugger; it always seems like he's moving down the musical line faster than you can sum up or neatly categorize where he's been. While 2016's Golden Sings That Have Been Sung was a marked step away from the American Primitive persona displayed on 2014's All Kinds of You and the following year's neo-psych Brit-folk of Primrose Green. He was moving toward something too: a music, however fragmentary, of his own design. While it's true that none of his previous recordings could neatly sum up all he brought to the table, Deafman Glance takes the stranger and more relaxed approach from Golden Sings and goes down the rabbit hole to emerge with a record that sounds more "like him" than anything previously issued. Despite the fact that it was all recorded in a studio, this is the guy you are likely to experience on-stage on any given night. In his press release he claims he wanted to escape the "jammy acoustic guy" in favor of recording something that better represented the various sonic territories that continually intrigued him.

These nine tracks accomplish that. Co-producing with keyboardist/arranger Leroy Bach, Walker surrounds himself with a familiar cast that includes guitarists Bill MacKay and Brian Sulpizio, bassist Matt Lux, drummer Mikel Avery, synthesist Cooper Crain, and others. While the sounds are steeped in Chicago's post-rock and experimental music scenes, they can't be neatly contained therein. For starters, the ghost traces of the Sea and Cake that painted the margins of his last album are still here -- check "Opposite Middle" -- but they are often stretched to the breaking point in vanguard flights of abstract fancy, as evidenced by the Scott Walker-esque "Accommodations," the rewardingly weird fractured folk in "Can't Ask Why," the drifting, downer singer/songwriter poetics of "In Castle Dome," and the brazen Baroque folk-cum-Canterbury-styled prog in "Telluride Speed." In "22 Days," he transitions from placid and spacious acoustically driven psych before spiraling into jazz-rock that indulges in three guitars engaged in knotty interplay. "Expired" is initially a formless exercise in sonic adventure that moves back inside to embrace more recognizable confessional singer/songwriter fare with tender Mellotron embellishments. Conversely, "Rocks on Rainbow" harks back in time to his articulation of British Isles jazz-folk. With three guitars interlocking in an open-ended, ever-widening vamp punctuated by his halting, reedy baritone and striated instrumental cadences, closer "Spoil with the Rest" erupts in wonky, anthemic rock with a melodic pop hook. Deafman Glance could easily have been a mess. Its seemingly deliberate M.O. of not enforcing an agenda has resulted in a quizzical and beguiling collection of tunes that, played in virtually any sequence, results in an album of unassuming but nearly constant intrigue and delight. With its fascination quotient running so high, Walker's musical restlessness generously offers a sense of welcome anticipation that listeners can return to almost endlessly.

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