[18 May 2010]
Gayngs have got emotional baggage; they want you to feel what they’re feeling and they’ll convey it to you in whatever way works for you. It would be easy to classify Relayted as part of the Glo Fi movement, but it owes more to the new age of Enigma and the woozy jazz of early Portishead. While many atmospheric bands of late seem to shy away from any remotely commercial sounds, Gayngs have produced a record that let its melodic accessibility compliment its denser qualities.
An ‘80s gothic melancholy showers over the first half of the album, recalling the Cure and even Tears for Fears, especially on the heartwrenching cover of 10cc’s “Cry” (although that ‘80s feeling could just be coming from the track itself, given its original form). It is this unashamedly commercial packaging of sadness and loss tempered in the aforementioned thoughtful soundscapes that give Gayngs nothing short of a complete emotional bullseye when they are on form.
“The Gaudy Side of Town”, “No Sweat”, and “The Beatdown” all recall the psychedelic, delirious glory of the downtempo moments on Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. Windswept beats take a stroll in a breeze of lush keyboards and lazy trumpets. Vocally, Justin Vernon’s tones range from a bluesy tenor to blissed out falsetto, and walls of his voice are frequently scattered around. False Bottom takes a more experimental route, brass and distorted vocals accumulating in the mix like a tribal version of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem”, which provides a welcome break from the moody serenades.
It would be great if the whole album was as good as its first half hour. As each track goes by, you’re not entirely sure who you’re hearing, until you relent and admit that all you’re hearing is the multi-faceted sound of Gayngs, as gothic as they are electronic. But later on in the album, it seems that they aren’t entirely sure of who they are themselves, which is disappointing, as the Gayngs of the first 6 tracks is an incredible musical experience.
The hymnal “Crystal Rope” claims that “tonight we grieve” without really providing a convincing musical case, in comparison to the melancholic strains of the earlier tracks. While “Faded High” is the nearest thing to sounding like 2010, with its misty xx vocals and blippy new wave synths, it is included almost as if a reminder of the time this album belongs to. Although this sound is effectively pulled off, one cannot help feel a lack of enthusiasm and real feeling that a track like “Cry” produced so well.
“Ride” returns to Gayngs’ comfort zone, pulling off Air-does-the-blues, but it sounds oddly hollow, as if the first 30 minutes took up all of Gayngs’ passion, leaving little left here. “The Last Prom on Earth” tries to sound more animated, but ends up lost in a muddle of AOR R&B balladry, fuzzy glo fi, and drowsy jazz, which might sound great on paper, but is a little too ambitious to be entirely engaging.
Despite its shortcomings, Relayted actually has a lot in common with two other unique records from the last 20 years: Primal Scream’s Screamadelica and Radiohead’s Kid A. As with these records, Gayngs’ debut is blissfully directionless and genre-defying. If Kid A aimed to alienate, and Screamadlica aimed to bring people together, Relayted falls somewhere in between. However, it does not meet the classic status of either of those albums; whilst Radiohead and Primal Scream managed to maintain a spacious, languorous atmosphere without losing any intensity, Relayted begins to meander around track 7, not really giving the album a chance to make a real mark.
However, going on grounds for potential, when Relayted shows Gayngs at their peak, it is emotional without being heavy, experimental without being distracting, the only real description needed being that it is an album containing a good deal of truly beautiful music that will tug on your heartstrings if you listen to what it has to say, but is quite happy just to give you a hug instead.