David Grubbs & Ryley Walker “A Tap On the Shoulder”

Some things simply make sense. A Tap On The Shoulder is the second collaborative effort from David Grubbs and Ryley Walker this year (the first being the excellent Fight or Flight Simulator on Cafe Oto’s Takuroku label) and it ravages the frame, causing this skeletal house of cards we’re juggling to fall to pieces. In the spaces left, Grubbs and Walker lift the emotional wreckage, gluing the scraps back together with a purifying glee.

Opening their account with the title track, it brings to mind Kurihara’s Sunset Notes in the sense that it sounds like the score to a pollution-inspired bright purple dusk. Resonant drones rise like smoke in the distance, whether it’s a signal to a distant civilization or the smoldering end to another doesn’t matter; the mark is left, and the message that it’s time to set out toward the ruins comes through loud and clear. This same spirit carries over to “Accepting Most Plans,” where Grubbs piano playing hopefully reaches for each bright hint of starlight, Walker’s guitar tracing figure eights in his looming shadow. It’s a beautiful, lonely dance in the darkest throes of midnight.

Melodic laments aren’t the only trick on A Tap On the Shoulder. Not even close. Angular crunch initiates the first minutes of “Pump Fake on the Death Rattle” before the bottom half drops off into viscous sonic goo, becoming odd globules that don’t even sound like a guitar anymore. Electric screwdrivers animate, throttling into space pumped full of mescaline to kick-off a three-day bender. Even on “Uglification”, there’s an alien infusion that skirts across concrète plains like a broken-down spaceship circling the swelling rainclouds in search of an electrical jump.

Amongst the wild rides, quiet moments still poke out from their holes. Acoustic synergy gracefully waltzes through “Dorothy Kept.” Remembering all the sight words before you’ve even seen them, a combination of pride and excitement is strung through these angular massages. Solemn, contemplative, notes move forward with one eye looking behind while pulling the sheets over your head, wishing the outside world away.

A Tap On The Shoulder is a collaboration that makes sense. Grubbs and Walker are kindred spirits, speaking a shared language and pushing each other into unfamiliar spaces. As it writhes across the sticky floor, “The Madman From Massachusetts in an Empty Bar,” creates friction and produces heat. With guitar shards exploding into junk piles, there’s no script to follow here.

Stuck at an existential crime scene, A Tap On The Shoulder simply follows instinct, whether good or bad. In the process the duo finds a contented sphere to spook. Broken glass can cut deep, but within the withered, aural scars is a new life, waiting for someone to open the gates. Remnants don’t matter much when everything is still together and functioning, but once the fall happens, the scraps are all we’ve got and we might as well use them to build something better.


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