The long, friendly shadow of Do Make Say Think stretches across the splendid new set from Chicago improvisers Charles Rumback & Ryley Walker. Like previous collaboration Cannots, their album plays tricks with the brain. The first illusion is the cover; what at first appears to be an acrylic couch turns out to be an elongated smudge of American eagle. One might say the same about the music, which uses folk Americana as its starting point but feels free to wander down myriad roads. The second illusion is that the music sounds more composed than improvised. The third is that the duo ~ free jazz drummer Rumback and folk innovator Walker ~ sounds more like a compact band, thanks to tasteful electronic enhancements and a visiting bassist (on “Idiot Parade”).
Above all, the album is warm. Lead single (and opening track) “Half Joking” builds on a friendly riff, its moderate pace an invitation to take off one’s boots and warm them by the fire. Once the duo has established its way around a melody, thereby winning the listener’s trust, they decide to tell a more meandering tale. While “Self Blind Sun” would not have been a good single, it’s a fine showcase for the duo’s natural playfulness.
Then comes the aforementioned “Idiot Parade,” the first of two tracks that push Little Common Twist right out of the free jazz / folk arena and squarely into post-rock. This is why we like the set so much: it holds back some of its cards and approaches one of our favorite genres from the side rather than crashing into it head-on. But we shouldn’t be that surprised, as Thrill Jockey is already home to Tortoise, Trans Am and The Sea and Cake. Nick Macri’s bass makes a difference, especially in the closing minutes, continuing a quarter-century tradition at the label.
If one views “And You, These Sang” as an abstract lynchpin, one can glean an upward shift across the album’s second half. Electronics are gradually added, the only small misstep being that we’d like to hear more of the drums at the end of “Menebhi.” “Ill-Fitting/No Sickness” is the natural successor to “Half Joking,” Walker producing some of the album’s catchiest melodies up front before Walker leaps into the fray with wood blocks at 2:35. It all leads to “Worn and Held,” which connects back to “Idiot Parade” while barreling forward into louder, more dynamic territories. Has Thrill Jockey found a new post-rock luminary? Neither band nor label mentions the “p-word,” which is cleverly hidden, like the bald eagle waiting patiently to be discovered. (Richard Allen)