New Relics is a holding pattern, a means to mess around with sounds and, in the case of its video equivalent, a different outdated format.
A few things one needs to get out of the way when approaching the new mini-album from Glasgow-based Errors. Yes, even though this is an eight-song-long release that runs about 32 minutes, which is about what a great deal of indie rock albums these days tend to run length-wise, this is considered to be a "mini-album" -- not quite an extended play in brevity, but not quite a full-length album. It exists somewhere in the middle, in the same way that Sugar’s Beaster was a six song, half-hour long statement in miniature. And you may have heard that Errors are also taking the step at releasing this mini-album as a video experience, on obsolete VHS tape no less. (Though, if they wanted to really impress with their command of the outdated, they could have issued the avant-garde videos that accompany this release to Beta. But that’s just one man’s opinion.) Additionally, this is the second Errors release in less than a year. The band’s third full length, Have Some Faith in Magic came out in Europe and North America at the end of January. Plus, this is the first "album" as a three-piece after the departure of guitarist Greg Paterson, so if this is all seeming as a bit of a transitory piece, well, you wouldn’t be wrong or in, urm, error. If anything, New Relics has the feel of a "what now?" kind of issue. It’s the sound of the band cobbling together material that just didn’t fit on their normal album-based output, and throwing it to the wild -- notwithstanding the fact that some of these sounds do blend and merge into one another. Still, this mini-album does have a truncated feel to it, and it seems as though that New Relics is kind of an odds and sods release.
What New Relics does prove is that the band has either been listening to a lot of M83, watching a lot of teen movies from the ‘80s or sticking their head into semi-obscure dream pop/shoegaze of a band such as Ride, as there’s quite a few tracks here that herald the wispy jet exhaust of sound that some British bands of roughly 20 years ago were mired in, before the emergence of Britpop, at least. New Relics is a dreamy, soundscape of a piece that -- by the time you get to final track "Pegasus", begins to sound a lot like the panoramic view of the Cure circa Disintegration. This is a maturation of sound from the band’s earlier dance beginnings, and shows that Errors are becoming more interested in the song as something that’s a great deal more atmospheric than something you can move your feet to. However, the ride that New Relics takes you on is one that is sometimes filled with bumps and hiccups that show the group’s discomfort in taking on a bold new direction in their sound. In particular, opening song "Engine Homes" would be described as being musical wallpaper, except that wallpaper sometimes tends to have all sorts of ornate designs and imagery on it. The keyboard washes of "Engine Homes" are about as plain as white paint, and listening to it is about as exciting as listening to it dry. Put another way, it’s as though an Amtrak train has left the station at a cascading speed, only to derail after getting out of the departure area and burst into flames with people breaking all sorts of windows to escape injury and flames. However, that image would probably be a heck of a lot more exciting and invigorating that the waves of sound that the song offers up, even in suggesting that it’s a bit of a train wreck.
Essentially, the mini-album really only begins by the time you skip to track two: "Ammaboa Glass", which sounds a little like what Thomas Dolby might have cooked up somewhere around his The Flat Earth years in all of its new wavy and Afro-beat rhythms. There’s also a bit of a Europop sheen to the proceedings here: you could imagine the song easily being covered by Depeche Mode, except the repetitive vocals are buried somewhere a lot lower in the mix than they would be on one of their records. Still, it’s a nice, twitchy song that effectively leads into the more Blade Runner-sounding "Relics", which naturally has the feel of a movie soundtrack given that description, though one with airy, barely discernible female vocals that nudge the song into Cocteau Twins territory. From there, the next highlight is the squiggly synth-led "Hemlock", which certainly feels that it could have almost been used as the end credits music for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension in all of its giddy retro-fuelled glory -- had it only been a smidge more sillier, I suppose. The pulsating "White Infinity" is another glitchy highlight that makes one wish that John Hughes was still alive and making films, since music this fitting for a backdrop to his vision is still being created.
All in all, New Relics does feel a bit on the short side -- the final song "Pegasus" even just ends, collapsing the album in on itself. So you have to kind of wonder what the point of this exercise is, considering that some of it seems to interlock and fit together, and some of it doesn’t. If anything, New Relics just seems like a tentative toe in water for the group following the leavetaking of one of their band mates. I’m not sure if the album -- sorry, I meant "mini-album -- whets the appetite for a future Errors disc. One supposes that then New Relics is just something tossed off to see if some of the magic left over from the last release still remains. In a sense, it does and it doesn’t. Had New Relics had a bit more in terms of focus, it would have been a congealing and appealing vision of futures past. As it stands, New Relics is a holding pattern, a means to mess around with sounds and, in the case of its video equivalent, a different outdated format. At once sprawling and implosive, New Relics is simply just a relic for fans and other curious parties who want to plunge headfirst into this cascading and widescreen sound with a clutch of some great songs; the rest of it being little more than filler.