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On Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, Rockford, Ill.-based singer-songwriter Ryley Walker expertly arranges every element

From instrumentation to vocalization, Walker seeks to demonstrate full control of his faculties at all times


At first blush, Ryley Walker’s fourth album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, may overwhelm. The album’s opening track, “The Halfwit In Me,” starts simply enough: a pensive exchange between woodwind and guitar, seemingly out of sync. In just a few seconds, though, with minimal segue, the song is in full tilt. That clarinet disappears amid blooms and cascades of clean guitar.

Although these layers may initially blanket the ear, a little focus reveals the strictness of their measure. They obfuscate and complicate, even as they underscore and complement. Throughout the album, Walker arranges every element expertly. From instrumentation to vocalization, Walker seeks to demonstrate full control of his faculties at all times. He largely succeeds.

Walker’s unique approach to composition helps him to warp, stretch, skew and elevate material above standard singer-songwriter fare. Without these sonic embellishments, Walker’s lyrics would read as simply unforthcoming or willfully obtuse. With them, they become wholly cryptic and happily unresolved. “Praise in one ear and out the other / You curse your own name, you curse your brother / how can a man see, with a choir apart? / The lips are moving, no soul or heart,” he sings on “A Choir Apart.” It feels as though the song’s buoyant, skittering drum beat is leading the listener around corners and through crawlspaces to a revelation that is ultimately withheld.

Not all of the album’s eight songs are so ornate, nor do they all stretch the boundaries of traditional song structure and subject matter. “I Will Ask You Twice,” for example, a simple juxtaposition of a bright finger-picked guitar part against a moody one, clocks in at just over two minutes. All the songs do feel tightly managed, though. And while that may yield aesthetically pleasing results, it mutes the album’s emotional impact.

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