Course in Fable is Ryley Walker’s second superb effort of 2021, vastly different than his first but no less affecting.
After a massively successful independent release earlier in the year, Ryley Walker returns with Course in Fable, a sprawling folk album drenched in the ‘80s prog-rock with which Walker is intimately familiar. This eminently listenable set is filled with jazzy guitars and intense lyrical couplets across a brilliant 40 minutes. It opens with a two-lick guitar hook that sounds like it was ripped from Genesis’s playbook. “Striking Down Your Big Premiere,” makes for a strong introduction to Course in Fable, setting the tone for the album: “If I could wear a capsule/Of all the world’s hairline fracture/The biggest wig in the show.” Another song, “Rang Drizzy,” doesn’t shy away from discussing Walker’s 2019 suicide attempt (“I am wise/I am so fried/Rang dizzy inside/Fuck me, I’m alive”) as it evokes the experience of hitting rock bottom. So while it seems only natural and even easy to start dissecting these songs and finding the personal meaning in them, line by line, Walker has indicated, in multiple interviews, that this is not his intention. This writer’s style sees him writing in “lyric groups” of two or three lines that are intuitively combined in ways that fit with a song’s rhythms and arrangements. So rather than gush over perceived intent — or the potential implications of Walker’s words — it might be best to just let each line, each verse, wash over you, like the smooth, rolling guitars; their significance is notable but fleeting. Walker’s strategy works in the context of a great jam, a somber track, and multiple foot-tapping guitar songs with complex chords that significantly step-up the music styles being combined. It’s hard to find something to dislike anywhere on Course in Fable — each track naturally flows into the next. Walker has released not one but two superb, and vastly different, albums this year.
Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2021 | Part 3.