Artist: Western Skies Motel
Label: Audio Gourmet
Catalog #: AGN072
Keywords: Folk Drone, Dark Jazz
Western Skies Motel is the sole project of René Schelbeck, a seasoned Danish musician, and Reflections is a new direction for him, coming after a long hiatus. The details of Schelbeck’s story are included on the bandcamp page of his new netlabel, Audio Gourmet, describing how he initially cut his teeth in punk and indie bands, but then took time off to focus on family life. Categorized as ambient, drone, electroacoustic, and folk drone by Audio Gourmet, the three tracks on this debut EP are beautiful, moody, lush, open-ended improvisations. Each piece has a life-like quality to it, as if you can hear the music breathing. Ebbing and flowing effortlessly, this meditative material swells out of nowhere in a gorgeous wash and disappears just as quickly, but creates a rich tonal landscape during that brief time.
Audio Gourmet lists the tools used to bring about Reflections as a harmonium and an acoustic guitar, and percussion and perhaps a bass is also heard on the more lush arrangements. The titular opener is stripped down, but elegant, sounding like just the harmonium and guitar, starting with a gradual swell while layers of guitar are added: some slow, almost plodding in a graceful way, while the later additions come on in a flurry that swirls around the original melody. This first track reminds me of a story I heard many months ago on the radio about a dancing club whose members are either elderly or quite young, and by cultural happenstance has no middle aged members. When I listen to this track, “Reflections,” I imagine a stately older couple slowly dancing as their younger counterparts whirl around them in an ecstatic tempest, living up their youth while observing what they will eventually become. Western Skies Motel evokes such rich imagery throughout the EP that I keep wanting to compare the project to bands like Bohren und der Club of Gore and The Kilimanjaro Dark Jazz Ensemble/Mount Fuji Doom Jazz Corporation, but not in that these groups sound very similar, but they all conjure up vivid, complex emotions through the sheer abstraction of instrumental music.
On the bigger, fuller “Here and There” and the more basic closer “Homesick,” Schelbeck keeps with the flurrying guitar, quickly fingerpicking arpeggios, but the songs never lose their meditative quality. These pieces are a perfect example of how notes can be played quickly, yet fit in slower phrases and patterns. In “Homesick,” the initial flutter serves as a backbone for other subtler layers to branch off of, while in “Here and There,” it leads while a rich tonal underbelly brews beneath. I am not familiar with René Schelbeck’s earlier material, but I believe he was well served by that time he spent with his family, because this is a stunning return full of feeling, and I eagerly look forward to hear more from Western Skies Motel.