Before you’ve even heard the album, you’d better know a few things about this record: Ryley Walker casts it not only as his “garbage-canny”, urban Detroit album, but the album that represents his emancipation from the “jammy acoustic guy” image that has been built up around him. It also has some of the richest, fullest guitar sounds this side of Built to Spill.
Boasting a remarkably beautiful cover, Deafman Glance is full of sanded-down rough edges (“22 Days”), jazzy textures (“Accommodations”), and those gloriously decadent guitars (the whole thing). It’s definitely not a jammy acoustic record – there’s barely anything you’d consider ‘acoustic’ on here – almost everything is treated, developed, or processed in some fashion, even the acoustic guitars.
The languorous, hushed tones that open “Expired” resemble the beauty and brilliance of Jeff Buckley at his most tranquil. Sure, the glassy guitars and fuller-throated vocals cut through the fug on the chorus – but serenity is restored within moments. It’s a masterpiece of dynamic control.
Opener (and album highlight) “In Castle Dome” seems to unfold like origami – layers and textures develop over time, and seemingly at will. Walker here demonstrates both power and restraint: at any moment the track could explode into a wall of noise, but he holds on long enough to see the thing through.
While a handful of tracks have extended run times, the lengthy and progressive “Telluride Speed” is probably the pick of the bunch. It’s straight folk from the outset – less Detroit, more Canterbury. But, as always, Walker gives the thing room to expand. Flutes and delicate guitars occupy Van Morrison-esque verses, while bizarre prog-rock fuzz-guitar fleshes out the short instrumental bursts with crackles and sparks, before a full-on choppy guitar workout closes the final two minutes out. It goes nowhere slowly and is all the better for it.
This is an often-beautiful, fully professional work from an artist that clearly knows the toys his listeners will allow him to play with outside of his own sandbox. His (correct) assumption that electrified prog and playful jazz are equally feasible additions to his sound has only served to strengthen his canon. Deafman Glance is a great record, and it proves – if nothing else – that sometimes a change is as good as a rest.