This is Illinois singer-songwriter Ryley Walker’s fifth solo album in seven years but there’s much more to explore than that. Those with an appetite for something stranger might consider his two collaborative albums with the free-jazz drummer Charles Rumback, or Deep Fried Grandeur, released just last month, which consists of two 18-minute improvisations recorded live with Japanese psychedelic rock band Kikagaku Moyo.
Course in Fable, in contrast, works as a fine entry point to the catalogue of a man with so many ideas that he’s still threatening to make a “double LP prog epic”. There are proggy tendencies in evidence in various places here, not least in the crazily bouncing guitar lines of Pond Scum Ocean, which takes three minutes to introduce the vocals, and the wild finale of Axis Bent, which sounds like the studio being dismantled while the song is still going. There are also strong connections with the meandering stylings of post-rock, given that John McEntire from one of the giants of that genre, Tortoise, is the producer.
However, though they might undergo sudden gear changes and veer off course with a jagged gutar solo from Bill MacKay, these songs always return to recognisable structures and are generally as beautiful as they are strange. Walker’s singing voice recalls the calm understatement of Nick Drake, sounding soft and restrained even as he utters a dazed, surprised, “F*** me I’m alive,” in the chorus of Rang Dizzy. It may not always be obvious where he’s going, but he vists some highly appealing places along the way.