By: Derek Jung
Ryley Walker's 2015 sophomore album Primrose Green was an eye opener for me in so many ways. The jazzy, acoustic folk was unfamiliar territory for me, and I welcomed it with open arms and eager ears. The title track even made my 2015 list of Favorite Songs. The Chicago native returned again last week with his third full length, and a noticeable bump in production and songwriting has only solidified him as an artist worth paying attention to.
Walker's ability to create immersive songs through complex, multi-part song structures is fantastic, and his skillful guitar playing only adds to this fact. Lead single "The Halfwit in Me" immediately showcases the progressive folk that has endeared him to so many fans around the world. Later on, "Sullen Mind" explodes midway into an expansive masterpiece of sonic genius. This song in particular is the full band performance that I've been waiting for from Walker. The drumming, additional guitar, and what sounds like a vibraphone build wave after wave until the finale. On a more subdued note, "The Roundabout" is one of the best lyrical showcases on the album, I loved the verse "And I'd buy you a drink / My credit is quite shit / We can all laugh / And have tap water". It's funny, clever, and a little self-deprecating all at the same time.
There's no denying that Walker is a skilled songwriter. His wordplay and storytelling are top notch, but one of the weak spots on the album is Walker's vocal performance, which gets a bit monotonous. While his singing style has never been stellar, I really enjoyed songs like "Summer Dress" on Primrose Green that really pushed his singing to the limits. On this album, however, I don't hear him taking the same vocal risks.
If you're looking for a musically and lyrically complex album to enjoy on a lazy Sunday afternoon, this album would be a great place to start.
By: Derek Jung
After nearly twenty years as a band and too many lineup changes to possibly write about, ringleader Kevin Barnes embarks on his latest jumbled subconscious journey on Innocence Reaches. Generally speaking, the band has had less and less success since their career peaked with Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? back in 2007. When I saw them live for the first time in 2012, they had a pretty decent crowd at the theater I worked at. Fast forward four years and they have smaller crowds in smaller theaters. With each passing album I keep hoping from them to recapture the magic that made Hissing Fauna one of my favorite albums of the last decade. Unfortunately, while it has its moments, Innocence Reaches fails to comes close.
For every big moment on the album, like "gratuitous abysses" there's a complete miss like "a sport and a pastime". And this is the overwhelming theme of the album: inconsistency with an unhealthy lack of coherent structure. Lead single "it's different for girls" tries to be a commentary on gender identity, something that the band has tackled throughout their career by wearing makeup and dressing in androgynous costumes, and is actually one of the stronger songs on album, but lyrically it just comes off as a little bit silly: "It's different for girls / they don't spit on the street / they don't piss on the seat".
Instability has always been a boon of creativity for Kevin Barnes, and with this release, the experimentation includes the incorporation of modern EDM elements. Album opener "let's relate", with its synths and electronics, sees this experiment stumble right out of the gate. It doesn't get much better from there. At the end of the day, we have another installment in the every growing discography of Kevin Barnes' life. This just happens to be a forgettable one.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.