For Ryley Walker, the option of treading a safer and more lucrative career path has always existed. At literally any point, if he were to meekly shape-shift into the guise of a more vanilla-flavoured acoustic folk-blues troubadour, his commercial stock would accordingly grow and his newly spayed output would consequently dribble unremarked from high-end, low-volume stereo set-ups at dinner parties from Manhattan to Sandbanks. But it would utterly diminish him.
Deafman Glance is road-trip music for a car that keeps breaking down. Taking its name from the title of experimental theater artist Robert Wilson's 1970 play set in a cryptic, menacing world with no sound, the latest album by Chicago-based singer-songwriter Ryley Walker repeatedly collapses into silence only to pull itself back together again, injured but emboldened. Up until now, the 28-year-old guitarist's work was some of the most traditional and reverential to be released by his generation of forward-thinking Americana acts; his jazzy take on folk-rock felt like a fogged-up tribute to heroes like John Martyn and Bert Jansch.
Boasting a remarkably beautiful cover, Deafman Glance is full of sanded-down rough edges ("22 Days"), jazzy textures ("Accommodations"), and those gloriously decadent guitars (the whole thing). It's definitely not a jammy acoustic record - there's barely anything you'd consider 'acoustic' on here - almost everything is treated, developed, or processed in some fashion, even the acoustic guitars. The languorous, hushed tones that open "Expired" resemble the beauty and brilliance of Jeff Buckley at his most tranquil.
Interviews with Walker suggest that he’s since tried to shake off that nostalgic veneer (or at least recenter its focus). His 2016 album Golden Sings That Have Been Sung found the Chicago native digging a little more deeply into the 90s post-rock sounds of his hometown, channeling experimental easy-listening virtuosos like Jim O’Rourke and The Sea and Cake, but struggling to capture the naturally flowing energy of his previous albums. With Deafman Glance, however, he’s found the most organic balance of his various interests yet, leading his band of longtime collaborators through an electric, jazzy suite of songs that feels both intricate and effortless.
Everyone's favorite jester-come-jazz/folk troubadour, Ryley Walker, returns after 2016's well-received Golden Sings That Have Been Sung with an equally hazily idiosyncratic collection. The opener, "In Castle Dome," develops a lethargic psych saunter that dominates the album's feel and rhythm. Largely, his trust in a drowsy pace is admirable, and a welcome break from ram-it-home hooks and tireless bombast.