Even if it were not successful, there would still be something perversely admirable about the way Gayngs openly embrace the cheese ball seductive techniques of the ‘80s. The retro kitsch of the neon decade has been rehashed so exhaustively that it’s tempting to assume that any artist or band that traffics in its tropes is cynically attempting an easy cash-in. Yet Relayted, the debut album from Gayngs, is clearly not interested in getting a cheap, ironic laugh out of the melodramatic tones of the ‘80s. There is sincere affection on display for the sort of smooth, narcotized pop that Phil Collins used to such memorable effect on “In the Air Tonight”. That someone might choose to pay homage to this style is not terribly surprising. That Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), P.O.S, member of Megafaun and a host of other guests are active participants on Relayted, and that it’s released by Jagjaguwar is a bit of a jaw-dropper.
Ordinarily, the amount of sleek saxophone solos on Relayted would normally be enough of to make this album a non-starter for any Bon Iver fan. But, in some ways, Relayted is a treatise on taste. More accurately, Relayted is a treatise on bad taste. Much in the same way the Hold Steady reminded overly discriminatory indie kids that AC/DC-indebted bar-rock riffs are actually kind of awesome, Gayngs is attempting to lift another derided style out of its element and give it a chance to shine anew. Lord knows my first thought when I heard the saxophones on Relayted opener “On the Gaudy Side of Town” was “Careless Whisper” (actually, it was “Never Gonna Dance Again,” but subsequent research showed me that the song is actually called “Careless Whisper”), but Gayngs homage is moody, beguiling, and difficult to resist. In short, it really works. Sure, naming the song “On the Gaudy Side of Town” is a bit of a wink, a tacit acknowledgement that there is nothing subtle about this approach, but in the context of the song, a little cheekiness is forgivable. In fact, Gayngs leader (ha?) Ryan Olsen has made some truly interesting connections between those oft-mocked ‘80s sounds and the murky depths explored by trip-hop in the following decade.
Once you get past the initial surprise and uneasiness of enjoying something so kitschy, it’s fairly easy to get swept up in the overlying mood of Relayted. From moment one, Relayted is lighter than air, with some spare, echoey drums as the sole grounding element. Every other instrument is meant to be as ethereal as conceivably possible, none more so than the vocals. Anyone who enjoyed the distant howling falsetto that Bon Iver utilized to such memorable effect on Blood Bank will appreciate the way Vernon’s voice is used all over Relayted, although he does get his own showcase as front man on “Spanish Platinum”. Vernon even busts out the Auto-Tune to surprisingly heartbreaking effect on closer “The Last Prom on Earth” which, incidentally, features a Boyz II Men-style spoken word interlude (that, I’ll admit, I found amusingly arch). And P.O.S? Wow. That dude can really affect a soulful croon when he’s called upon to do so (as he is here on “No Sweat”). Solid Gold’s Zach Coulter is one of the more ubiquitous voices on this album, and his breathy, distant singing is perfectly suited for the album’s omnipresent alluring mood.
I’m not familiar enough with the other contributors (Lookbook, the Rosebuds) to comment on their input, but vocally, there are no real duds on this album. This is probably attributable to the fact that the overriding purpose and atmosphere of Relayted is so completely apparent that only someone truly daft could miss the point. Were this project merely a one-off single, it might be fair to assume that Gayngs was a lark, but Relayted is obviously the product of a great deal of work and attention. You might be tempted to snigger a few times at the unabashed ostentation of it all, but Relayted is too completely realized to write off.