LP, Dead Oceans, 2018
While Deafman Glance isn’t the first time acoustic-shredder/singer-songwriter Ryley Walker has veered into sonically adventurous territory (see the amazing 41-minute improvisational version of “Sullen Mind” for proof), it is definitely his first LP as a songwriter that can’t be lazily labeled as “folk rock”. Though I love how his past releases explored the folk/jazz fusion of Astral Weeks, Tim Buckley, Joni Mitchell and John Martyn, Deafman Glance shows Ryley transcending his influences into something more distinct. Full of angular left turns, airy flutes, jazzy detours, and psychedelic electronic atmospheres, this album is much more reflective of the richly diverse musical environment of Chicago, which has been home of some of the best avant-garde jazz, post-rock, and experimental artists of the last 50 years. The album’s lineup is stacked with amazing Chicago musicians like drummer Mikel Patrick Avery, guitarist Bill Mackay, flautist Nate Lepine, and keyboardist Leroy Bach, just to name a few. Despite the increasing complexity of his music, Ryley seems much more at peace and centered on this album, judging by the more subdued, contemplative and sometimes depressive quality of his vocals compared to past releases. All in all this is one of my favorite albums of the year, a balance of great songwriting, jazz musicianship, and art-rock tendencies.