Boomkat Product Review:
Matthew Sage and Edições CN boss Lieven Martens connect to deconstruct the concept of the Western, dissolving windswept Americana in creaky field recordings and evocative, blurry drones. RIYL Daniel Lanois, Bruce Langhorne, or even Steven R. Smith.
Growing up in Belgium, Lieven Martens' connection with the US concept of the Western was absorbed through movies, TV, books and music. Sage, on the other hand, grew up in Colorado, surrounded by mountains and engulfed in a generational concept of "Western Living" as it pertained to the colonial American identity. To each artist it meant something quite different: to Sage it has sinister undertones that link it to genocide and destruction, to Martens it's a more ghostly presence behind a facade of bolshy, carnivalesque aesthetics. The two use "Riding Fences" to deconstruct the concept across continents, using their musical expertise to question the motives behind common themes and motifs, and allowing themselves to hint at the darkness beneath the surface.
Sage's influence for the album came after he read John Edward Williams' "Butcher's Crossing", a fictional novel that pulls apart the Western genre and the spurious ideologies that underpin it. In the book, a New England intellectual influenced by transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau heads out to "find himself in the great West," joining a hunting party to skin buffalo. Caught up in the slaughter, he becomes obsessed with killing, and his party almost freezes to death as the weather changes - when the devastated group returns to town with hides to sell, they find they're worthless. These themes of nature winning over human violence are at the core of "Riding Fences", and while the duo interpret them subtly there's a subtle gloominess to the album that's hard to ignore.
Martens' field recording practices have often led him to consider the relationship between man and the natural world, and here it's even more focused, juxtaposed with windswept Americana guitar riffs and lonesome muted piano. The most obvious comparison might be Eno collaborator Daniel Lanois, who experimented with ambient Americana on albums like 2005's stunning "Belladonna". But Sage and Martens don't imbue their compositions with grandeur or self-satisfied aesthetic fetishism, they use each sound as a cautious warning about the implications of the Western and "Western Living" in general. It's a sobering approach that leaves a bitter aftertaste.