Release date: May 26, 2023
Like a winding system of trails and paths cutting through a digital forest-scape, M. Sage’s Paradise Crick is shaped by time. Full of wonder and charm, designed patiently and from a rich, curious mulch of synthesized and acoustic sound, the versatile American artist and magic realist’s new suite of music is an imaginary destination and a pastoral fantasy that envisions the natural and fabricated worlds as one.
Matthew Sage is a musician, intermedia artist, recording engineer and producer, publisher, teacher, partner, and parent. Assembling a sprawling and idiosyncratic catalog of experimental studio music between Colorado and Chicago since the early 2010s, recent highlights include The Wind of Things (Geographic North, 2021), an ensemble-recorded expression of bow-splashed nostalgia, and the four seasonal albums of Fuubutsushi, the improvisatory ambient jazz quartet he formed with friends from afar in 2020. Sage renders projects with nuanced velocity and a completist sensibility — when it’s finished, it’s done — which is what makes Paradise Crick, his debut for RVNG Intl., a compelling outlier.
Sage first staked his tent in Crick’s conceptual campground five years ago from his home studio in Chicago (he’s since returned to Colorado, home to the mountains and prairies often personified in his work). He had just read Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, a kaleidoscopic reflection of pastoral America’s shifting identity by way of magical fishing sojourns. Inspired by that feeling, of getting lost but finding oneself in through the outdoors, he amassed over seventy demos documenting a fictional soundtrack for camping. Pull up to this park, and the sign might read, “Welcome to Paradise Crick. Fire Danger Is Low.” The sequence, pruned down to thirteen tracks, courses the dewy mornings, afternoon hikes, and firelit nights of a weekend expedition.
While Sage is not a filmmaker, he views the method of making this album as a similar form of world-building via structure, narrative, formal elements, and editorial refinement. Contrasted with his collaborative craft, here he is a sole auteur reclined in total autonomy, able to improvise scenes and implement special effects at will. A parallel precedent for such unchecked imagination in the M. Sage canon is A Singular Continent, his 2014 album that tilted its compass to a faraway land. Where Continent built its world layering samples as composition, Paradise Crick deploys a balance of accessible song structures with experimental instrumentation and sound design.
Speckled with harmonica, autoharp, chimes, penny whistle, voice, hand percussion, and other mysteries, Crick’s texture is treated as a sensorial adventure; the swamps gurgle, the lakes glisten, and the valleys breathe in robust HD. The rhythms are loose and buoyant, bursting with a few ‘kick and snare’ moments shaped by Sage’s lifelong love for drumming and headphone prone electronic music. Crick bumps more than most anything he’s done before; crackling static pulses and lush vibrations reveal an intrinsic groove, a hidden beat map.
In the landscapes of Paradise Crick, science and magic co-exist, 5k boulders and midi frogs share the frame with real-life memories of Midwest camping trips and the desire to feel extra human in a digitized space. Sage strived for “nature in the holodeck” but couldn’t help leaving fingerprints in the simulation, and it’s these traces of spirit and character that give Paradise Crick its strange allure.
The album’s bubbling sense of play, melody, and timbre takes cues from left-field electronic lineage; synth pioneers like Tomita and Raymond Scott up through the more expressive pop tendencies of Woo, Stereolab and the Cocteau Twins, and into contemporary composers like Sam Prekop. The album’s vocabulary is uncomplicated; the gestures are sweet and inviting, intended to lull the listener. As much as Sage continues to be an experimentalist by nature in his work, with Paradise Crick, he spins a narrative. Not necessarily a concept album, but rather an invitation to take off for a weekend. That’s the modus operandi down here in the Crick, we stretch out.
M. Sage’s Paradise Crick will be released May 26, 2023 in LP, CD, and digital editions. A portion of the proceeds from this release will benefit Earthjustice, the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization.