There’s more than a hint of dark Americana in the music of Western Skies Motel (Danish guitarist René Gonzàlez Schelbeck) circulating in and around its well-worn veins. As the day slips into the muted colours of dusk, the songs of Settlers inhale a dusty America made all the more surprising given the artist’s European location. As we listen, we’re reminded once more that music can transcend all kinds of borders, destroying walls and blockades between nation and nation when politicians would have them fervently constructed.
On Settlers, America is in the process of losing its stars; a slow, dry decay gnaws away at the guitar’s strings. This ‘dry’ feeling never really dissipates, pursuing the music like a plague. At first, a lively guitar passage that defies its years swipes at the gathering dust that tries to settle on the heavy-gauge strings. Rattling intensely, its leaden tone coughs in the dry air. The wind disintegrates everything else. The guitar plays its rusty melody, slightly dehydrated as it walks over the wide, empty plains of America.
The years seem to peel back as the lone guitar ponders. The music itself feels old, worn and somehow creased, the skin around its eyes wrinkled with the passage of the years. The night is always there, waiting on the road up ahead, and the music’s soon approaching its nocturnal chapter. You can’t escape or delay the inevitable. Don’t confuse old age for weakness, though, because the music speaks with a wise, experienced voice.
You get the sense that the music’s been through a lot. Soul troubles are a part of its experience, like a gunslinger who only knows the deep upset of pain and sorrow. This is by no means a melancholic listen, though. Cyclical melodies and underlying drones provide deep roots. Cicadas play their own percussive part, shaping the music’s appearance from time to time. Faster passages quicken things up, but the music itself holds steady as it faces up to a high breeze.
At times, Settlers seems to flirt with folk music, approaching the forest’s emerald eaves, while at other times it borders on modern classical’s more rigid temperament. Wherever she wanders, nothing ever feels out of place. The music gently coalesces, remaining sparse and walking quietly over the barren landscape, kicking up dust into the evening light as it shuffles its tired feet. A piano plays from somewhere beyond, offering a trickle of water. The piano is important because it provides a deeper contrast and a pause from the guitar, nourishing the album and preventing it from becoming stale. Reflecting on the past, the music herself holds a dusty mirror up to her face, reflecting centuries that have already been lost.