Over the years, Ryley Walker has revealed himself to be one of music’s most intriguing shapeshifters. Hailing from Chicago, his style has ranged all over the place, from noisy avant-pop to homely Midwestern folk, all with a tinge of jazz and a virtuoso’s ear.
The real power of Ryley Walker, though, lies in his abilities as a fingerstyle guitarist, and from a technical standpoint, at least, he does not disappoint. While it’s fair to say that lyrics have never been Walker’s forte, most of the guitar work here is phenomenal. From the steel guitar solo that crashes the end of ‘Rang Dizzy’ like the ghost of an old ’70s rock record, to the Don Cabellero-style math-rock licks of the single ‘Axis Bent’, this record often feels like it’s on a mission to show just how versatile the guitar can be.
That being said, my main qualm, actually, let’s call it a dealbreaker, is just how unfathomably nice this record sounds. Honestly, it gets a bit off-putting. I can’t figure out if it’s the guitar sound or the compressed to death production, but every song on here feels like its covered in a Lighthouse Family/Level 42/Magic FM sugarcoat that’s so thick as to be nigh-on impregnable.
As a result, I find Course In Fable to be a profoundly frustrating record. It’s like listening to a person who invites you over for a conversation, but whenever you try and dig into their motives, it just shushes you, hands you another piece of shortbread and tells you not to worry about it.
‘Clad In Bunk’ wins some points back purely for the moment when it morphs from easy jazz to the BBC Snooker theme for, like, no reason whatsoever, but mostly this feels like a miss. It’s a horrible, aching rimshot from a guy you can usually count on for dunkers.