Somewhere inside the inimitable Ryler Walker’s latest, everything clicks and Course In Fable becomes not just a celebration of so much that I love about music and how it can make people feel, but a monument to the path it takes to get here. Walker is a lifer. I tried to pretend for a while that I wasn’t, but when whatever it is flows through your veins, you can only keep it at bay for so long. Where Course In Fable strikes deepest is in the lamentations and realizations around the journey and in the celebration that you don’t need to swim in the darkness to thrive.
During the press circuit for this record, Walker’s vulnerability is a bullhorn. I don’t know him at all, but reading that Guardian interview resonated hard. I don’t talk about the mental health shitshow I found myself in 7-ish years ago, but it was gnarly and took a lot of years and a lot of therapy to get to the place I am now. Circumstances and experiences are never the same for anyone, but this line from that interview gets at something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past year: “There’s a lot of happiness in the music now, there’s more personality. It was like re-meeting myself all over again.”
With all that said, Course In Fable is a musical labyrinth. Dizzying prog-drenched song structures (this is where everyone mentions Walker’s love for Genesis) holding hands with post rock parables butt up against languid folk noodles and free jazz-inspired squeal. It’s got everything, and in someone else’s hands would probably end up being too damn much. But Walker and his cast of characters from Andrew Scott Young to Bill MacKay, all under John McEntire’s watch as producer, throw out inhibitions and let things get fucken weird. “Clad With Bunk” flips from lush psychedelic pop orchestrations to chooglin grooves at the drop of a dime midway through while “A Lenticular Slap” sounds like something Tortoise would have made in 1973 in an alternate timeline. On the one hand this is 100% a 2020/21 record, but close my eyes and forget what it actually is and where we are, and you could make a convincingly argue it fits somewhere into any of the past seven decades.
Course In Fable is a wild trip. It’s a little bit of everything shoved into the blender that is Ryley Walker’s brain. It utterly floors me to hear such a timeless, instant classic record like this when I think back to those early Plustapes releases (good as they were, this is in another stratosphere). The evolution is incredible, though the price has been steep. Like Heather Leigh said to me earlier this year, I love lifers and there’s not much better than hearing one’s reincarnation.