Ryley Walker is one of the most prolific artists around. Not just content with releasing his own solo album Course In Fable last year, he also put out a number of collaborations inspired by the improvisational spirit that runs through his live shows where songs take on a life of their own often detached from their recorded origins. The So Certain EP is a more traditional record, laid down with long-term collaborator Bill MacKay on guitar, Andrew Scott-Young on bass and cello and Quin Kirchner on drums and percussion, the former two who'd worked with him on Course In Fable.
Like Course In Fable, there's a wonderful light touch to these songs, an unfussy unclustered approach to the sound that allows the subtle detail in the instrumentation and the warm lived-in vocals to really draw you in. Whilst you might not quite always be able to get exactly what Ryley is getting at - "fangs tarnished in bold but never curved, fumes held for a daydream, where I’m limbless wigged out and clear blue, touch has memory and redness" from the opener So Certain Tall Tales doesn't necessarily make sense written down, but wrapped in the music the words don't need to, they form part of the whole that comes together as a mood.
Trace Ghosts captures the improvisational spirit of Ryley's work, it feels fresh-baked, laid down before the wandering mind and spirit has moved on particularly in the second half which feels like an intense intuitive jam played out by four men with a real connection to each other. Second Strand is lighter of touch, soft and wistfully meandering, comfortable in its own skin and steadfastly refusing to conform to normal songwriting structures and going with the flow.
Pharoah's Plastic, the final track, is the highlight. More claustrophobic with the guitars higher in the max and Ryley letting loose vocally with an intensity that contrasts with the softer-sung approach of the first three songs. It takes twists and turns that you don't expect (other than knowing that the song isn't going to follow a standard pattern) and that's the real magic in this surprise drop EP, less than a month after it was recorded and not waiting for the vinyl to arrive (August via his Bandcamp and international distribution), from one of the most fascinating and down-to-earth artists around.