“In terms of bar-raising, this is bordering on the obscene“.
After devouring Ryley Walker‘s third full length album for the first time, I sent the above Tweet out to the world. Within seconds, the Tweet had been favourited by none other than the enigmatic Chicagoan’s mum. Clearly, the senior Mrs Walker is resolutely proud of her boy, and not without good reason. Last year’s Primrose Green, I thought, was a perfect album, and I feared for his future, having hit such a peak so early. Part of me wondered if it was actually WORTH trying to compete with such an instant classic – maybe it was best for him to quit while he was ahead. Ryley Walker did NOT quit, however, oh no. He just went ahead and made an even BETTER album.
In terms of influences, all the usual suspects are here, but while on its predecessor, I was full of admiration for the way Walker managed to incorporate the likes of Tim Buckley, Van Morrison and Nick Drake into his sound without sounding like a lazy pastiche of them, this time I can only marvel at the fact that he STILL sounds like all those artists rolled into one (with a few additions), yet somehow manages to make Golden Sings That Have Been Sung sound about as far away from Primrose Green as possible (well, without becoming a Death Metal Europop act, obviously).
‘The Halfwit In Me‘, which kicks off proceedings, gets bonus points for including in its title a word I don’t think I’ve heard since the pre-digital age, holding a kind of “Olde English” charm that begins like peak era Roy Harper and becomes six minutes of gloriously romantic nostalgia. Even better is the track which follows, ‘A Choir Apart‘. This is a brooding, dramatic beast of a song, prominent drums and ominous bass to the forefront, which gradually builds and somehow, despite not really possessing anything resembling a chorus, weaves its way into your brain for weeks after you first hear it.
The compositions on Golden Sings… range from two minutes (the tender, acoustic ‘I Will Ask You Twice‘) to the just over eight minutes of finale ‘Age Old Tale‘, the first 90 seconds of which, rather bizarrely, is made up of Walker making his guitar sound like peripheral noises on a busy high street. Eventually it leaves that imagined bustle and becomes a heavy hearted, world weary trudge home after hours, cleverly turning into a moment of reflective soul searching.
With Walker, the tendency is often to focus primarily on the vast, expansive soundscapes that he and his band create, but perhaps the thing here that has forced me into having to give him a perfect score, for the second album running, is the quite magnificently droll, character assassination job that he does on himself. “Can I buy you a drink? But my credit is quite shit – we can all laugh and have tap water” he sings on the splendid ‘The Roundabout‘, giving you an insight into the highly mischievous nature of his psyche.
If Primrose Green was paramount in catapulting Walker into the nation’s conscience, one suspects that Golden Sings… will put paid to his days as a penniless jobbing musician once and for all. This deserves to – and hopefully will – be remembered as a classic album for many years to come. All that, and I never even got round to mentioning my favourite track on it!
‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’ is released through Dead Oceans on 19th August 2016.