Danish artist René Gonzàlez Schelbeck is Western Skies Motel. On Settlers he opts for a palette cleansing sparse, gentle acoustic guitar sound that harks back to the finger pickings of John Fahey and evokes wide-open spaces, rural vistas, and a stillness where time can stretch out until it’s no longer needed. It’s a sounded rooted in Americana, yet there’s something lurking beneath and at the fringes of his sound that makes it so much more.
He plays in swells, the acoustic guitar the spine of his pieces, maintaining a consistent tempo and timbre, yet behind it all manner of sonic debris can grow, sometimes subtly such as his use of bells on the opening piece Falling Leaves, other times more aggressively, building up a searing trail of electric guitar on the second track Two Worlds. Schelbeck is remarkably adept at the slow build, using density and perhaps volume to create a sense of an inevitable crescendo. In this sense there’s an element of post rock here, or perhaps post post rock, though you could equally argue that Schelbeck is using sound art/ or sound design techniques in his building and cutting as well.
With such a diversity of, and seemingly disparate reference points it’s fascinating that Settlers feels not just so coherent, but so in keeping with the aesthetic, approach and perhaps timeless stillness of the rest of Lost Tribe Sound’s roster.
By the third piece, Migratory Birds he is using a drum kit, bass, electric guitar, melodica or organ as well as his acoustic, and you wonder how we’ve somehow managed to get here. Particularly as he’s approached the tune with the sparse tasteful use of instrumentation as the previous two pieces – there’s just more of them. In this sense the sequencing is remarkable, Settlers creeps up on you. Yet throughout he maintains his acoustic guitar approach playing with a gentle simplicity. Finally on the epic last piece After the Storm, he puts the guitar aside and uses only organ, perhaps mellotron and who knows what else, building in density before he strips it away again, creating a joyous emotive suite of sound that strangely enough is entirely in keeping with the rest of the album.
This is music designed to be an album. It’s a cumulative. From the sequencing to the structures and instrumentation of each song, to the incredible artwork/ photography of label owner Ryan Keane’s own ancestors, Settler’s is designed to be experienced as a whole self-contained world unto itself. This is slow, beautifully articulated highly emotive music that feels willingly out of step with the world in 2016, which is also why it is so important.