At some point on tour, while playing a show in Amsterdam, Ryley Walker, a prodigious guitarist and scholar of Americana, found himself thinking about a bar in Wisconsin he used to frequent with his family. The bar is the namesake for “The Roundabout,” a new track from his upcoming record, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. Walker’s personal ties to the Midwest are obvious—he was born in Rockford, Illinois, not too far from Wisconsin and now calls Chicago his home. Chicago is deeply embedded in the history of American music, the vocabulary from which Walker constructs his music. But it has also played host to restless experimenters like Gastr Del Sol or Tortoise or Leroy Bach, all of whom Walker cites as formative influences. (He even used to jam with some of them when he was younger.) The critical and conceptual thrust of the avant-garde helps structure “The Roundabout,” which is built around a looping, cascading acoustic riff seemingly incapable of change—as if it were performed by a machine designed to perform only a single motion. Walker’s backing band can only escalate or deescalate against this backdrop, and hews heavily to the narrative of Walker’s lyrics. His words present the slow pile up of small disasters—passenger doors which don’t open, ruined credit, and worthless lottery tickets—all of which culminate at the end of each verse in his declaration: “you can find me at the Roundabout.” By the end of the track, he sings the refrain with a tone of something between defiance and resignation.
Golden Sings That Have Been Sung is out August 19 on Dead Oceans. Walker plays with Circuit des Yeux at Market Hotel, Brooklyn on November 3.