Ryley Walker

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 open drift 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 humor 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 on board since the beginning or are new to the Ryley Walker universe, you’re in for a treat.

Upcoming Shows


Sep
14
th
First Avenue
Sep
14
th
First Avenue

Past Shows


Mar
14
th
2020
Palace Theatre
Mar
14
th
2020
Palace Theatre
postponed

Drive-By Truckers

with Ryley Walker
Oct
4
th
2018
7th St Entry
Oct
4
th
2018
7th St Entry

Ryley Walker

with Health&Beauty
Apr
23
rd
2018
Fine Line
Apr
23
rd
2018
Fine Line

CALEXICO

with Ryley Walker
Sep
30
th
2016
7th St Entry
Sep
30
th
2016
7th St Entry

Ryley Walker

with Circuit des Yeux and Steve Palmer
Apr
9
th
2016
Turf Club
Apr
9
th
2016
Turf Club

Deer Tick

with Ryley Walker
Mar
14
th
2014
Holy Mountain
Mar
14
th
2014
Holy Mountain

MIDWEST SHOWCASE 2014 DAY PARTY

with Lizzo, John Mark Nelson, Pink Frost and more!

More Shows

Oct
26
th
Palace Theatre

Sylvan Esso

with Lido Pimienta
Nov
16
th
7th St Entry

The Garden

Jan
18
th
Fine Line

Best Coast

with Rosie Tucker
Mar
28
th
First Avenue

girl in red