Ryley Walker – Deafman Glance
Dead Oceans – 18 May 2018
Two years back, Ryley Walker released Golden Sings that have been Sung, a transitional album in the sense that it took the acoustic folk guitar framework he is known for and with it pushed further into the realms of free jazz, with the arrangements becoming looser and more drawn out than on Primrose Green or All Kinds of You. Ryley considers Golden Sings his Chicago suburbs record, whereas Deafman Glance is the sound of the singer moving to the Southside of Chicago and embedding himself into that Chicagoan jazz and noise culture. There are sounds here that will surprise and challenge the listener hoping for another Primrose Green; Deafman Glance is Ryley’s most exploratory album yet.
Things kick off with ‘In Castle Dome’, which contains the most sultry and late night electric guitar refrain Ryley has set to tape (Deafman Glance is a purely analogue recording), before his vocal sets in slowly above eerie space sounds and flutes and sounds like he is in a basement with his head in his hands. It is a clear message that this album will be grown up, after hours music with more than a tint of black about it. And if ’22 Days’, beginning with a slightly cleaner guitar sound and more upbeat riff, lulls us with its enjoyably playful band arrangements and stop-start musical tricks, ‘Accommodations’ blows us back into space. Sat just behind fairly soft guitar and piano chords is a very odd percussion arrangement that sounds like noises from another planet and frames suitably abstract lyrics (‘nothing to eat, but a pound of flesh’). This song does so much moving around, from screeching sounds to low woodwind and piano that it’s hard to believe it fits into three minutes. It’s a strong sign of the positives from Ryley’s decision to go into the studio with barely any songs set out; the freedom coming through from the band and the singer is exciting, which makes it a resounding success.
‘Can’t ask Why’ carries on the musical deception of Deafman with several arrangements that start the most relaxed of all on the set, with gently technical finger-picking and wind chime percussion supporting that signature laconic vocal, before a muscle-bound riff kicks in halfway through, barges any vocals out of the way and goes into a full-on glam jam before ending with some electric guitar flourishes. ‘Opposite Middle’ is, in comparison, fully digestible and has slipped down before you know it’s gone, but it does introduce us to another trippy number in ‘Telluride Speed’. Ryley tells me, like explaining how he caged a lion, that he has at least twenty versions of this song on his desk at home and that it began life as a noise rock piece in the vein of Sonic Youth, before gradually morphing into what is on this record. It’s another example of the mercurial nature of Deafman, which makes it almost unsurprising that it begins with light airy flutes for a minute or so before a rock-operatic piece of distorted guitar jumps in to shake things up. Imagine the intro to ‘Halfwit in Me’ on steroids. The middle period is restrained and very pretty, with just layered flutes and simple guitar until, two minutes or so before the end, a helicopter sound re-introduces the rowdy guitars and plunges us into a cyclical band jam. As a mongrelised song, it’s thrilling stuff and any risk of disjointedness is dispelled.
‘Rocks on Rainbow’ is the straight up prettiest song on the album and, being an instrumental acoustic guitar piece of almost two minutes in length, also acts as a spoonful of sorbet after a meal and leaves us with a fresh palette for final track ‘Spoil with the Rest’, another comparatively subtle piece in an arrangement sense, compared with the unruly nature of much of the album. It, along with ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Expired’, completes a final part of the set that calms things down somewhat and gives the impression of air clearing after a storm. That said, ‘Spoil’ doesn’t forget to end the last few bars with some fun cranked up guitar, before dropping off almost immediately and leaving one with the impression that they have heard something rather special at a fascinating point in this musician’s career.
So, while certainly being the most challenging of his albums so far, with music this heady and contemporary blending to make something so cohesive and exciting, Ryley’s ‘Southside Chicago’ album is also arguably his best yet.
Deafman Glance is released on Dead Oceans 18 may 2018.
Order here https://ryleywalker.ffm.to/deafmanglance