Ryley Walker Credit: Evan Jenkins

Ryley Walker closes his new album Deafman Glance (Dead Oceans) with a tune that nails the existential turbulence that ripples through most of his songs: “Whenever I do my best, I will spoil with the rest,” he sings, acknowledging a self-destructive impulse that bleeds into his affairs, romantic and otherwise. In most of the songs the narrator struggles with his decisions and fucks things up more often than not. It’s hard to miss the biting humor when Walker sings, “Tripped over your coat / Quick exit now ruined” in “Can’t Ask Why,” where he can’t even pull off a smooth departure after a breakup. But as much as Walker’s characters are uncertain and hobbled, he’s more assured and focused as a performer than ever. Though for years he’s found a sweet spot in his performances, blending the jazz-folk splendor of John Martyn with the exploratory vibe of Tim Buckley and Tim Hardin, until Deafman Glance he hadn’t mastered that mix on recordings. Walker’s singing is also at its best here; it’s at once melodically precise and soulfully loose. The multilayered, rich arrangements on the new record effectively cradle his voice, underlining his most blase utterances and countering his most effusive shouts—the serene flute lines of Nate Lepine and the spacey synth accents contributed by Bitchin Bajas’ Cooper Crain interact beautifully with the probing, sometimes biting leads of Walker and his frequent collaborators, guitarists Bill MacKay and Brian Sulpizio. No less significant is the growth of Walker’s songwriting, which extends to an almost cosmic openness on the harrowing “Accommodations” and a prog-flavored expansiveness on the breathlessly shifting “Telluride Speed.” The recording features a changing cast of players in the rhythm section, but for these special hometown shows he’ll lead a band with Sulpizio, Lepine, bassist Andrew Scott Young on bass, and Quin Kirchner and Mikel Avery on drums.   v