Relay: Still Point of Turning

On its full-length debut, Philadelphia outfit Relay merges throbbing, guitar-drenched shoegaze with a thick keyboard-heavy attack, resulting in a Spector-like ‘wall-of-sound' that at times resembles a raucous New Order with Bernard Sumner's distinctive voice exchanged for a more restrained and hushed vocal delivery. Consequently, a tension develops throughout the album between the soft vocal swoon (often situated far back in the mix) and the roaring instrumental swirl that constantly threatens to drown it. To be honest, with his vocals so smothered by the group's guitar onslaught, I can only guess as to what de facto leader Jeff Ziegler might be singing about, but it hardly matters when Relay's impact is clearly founded on the songs' crushing wallop, not their lyrics.

The 11-song album is a high-speed roller-coaster ride of stabbing riffs and galloping pulses that checks in it at a svelte 37 minutes. Relay's sound is aggressive, loud, and epic but neither painful nor alienating, with every song unleashed for a breathless three to four minutes before vanishing just as quickly. In fact, the album's first moment of calm arrives seven songs in when Relay weaves a metronomic pulse to meditative effect in the instrumental rest-stop “Prill.” A few well-placed instrumentals (“Pre” sounds like a tour through a clanging synth testing center) slow the pace briefly too. Strip away the oceanic roar and the material's melodic caliber still impresses and subtle touches like the barely-audible piano tinkle at the center of the guitar volcano in “Driver” (previously heard on the group's Type/Void EP) distinguish the group too.

November 2006