My good friend Justin Couch (more on him later) once said that the saxophone ruined music in the 80’s. While I am inclined to agree with him, I can’t say enough about the saxophone’s welcome contributions to Midwestern supergroup Gayngs’ debut album Relayted. While the very appearance of a saxomophone may bring on cringe inducing memories of man perms, open collared button up shirts, and pretty much anything Michael Bolton related, the brassy timbre of the baritone sax on Relayted push the already saccharine smooth jam studio session into, “this couldn’t get any more chees….OMG, that is a saxophone”…And so it begins. Gayngs’ music, while an already head-scratching enough tribute to the FM dominated soft rock of the late eighties/early nineties, is even more perplexing given the impressive 23-member roster that makes up the band. Some of the most notable members include Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver, Minneapolis rappers P.O.S and Dessa, freak folk outfit Megafaun, electro-glam outfit (and masterminds behind the project) Solid Gold, as well as various members from Leisure Bird, The Rosebuds, and Digitata. These members share a common loci, and apparently (who knew?) an affinity for the music played during steamy, red filtered, made-for-tv love scenes.
The question you are probably asking is: Does it work? I am here to give a resounding yes in their favor. Yes it is totally self-aware, at times tongue-in-cheek (just check out P.O.S spoken word outro confession on the album closer “The Last Prom on Earth”), but on the whole, the album rises above the weight of its influences and pens some incredibly gorgeous tracks. The album is significantly more than the sum of its members, there is hardly a scrabbling for top-billing, everyone’s voice is heard either as the revolving door band leader or somewhere in the liner notes. Megafaun’s drawl and slide guitar bow gracefully to autotuned vocals, vaguely safe 808 hip-hop beats and smooth jazz guitar solos, all while the buzzing keyboard driven undercurrent unearths sounds we haven’t heard since Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes”. There are some delicious anachronous moments that rear their head in the course of the hour +, year long studio experiment. The discordant, tribal-drummed, gorgeous mess of “False Bottom” is all squawking horns and dive-bombing synths. A pretty welcome reprieve from a polite but almost too nice of an album, an album that you wouldn’t mind buying a used car from but would never let your sister date. “Faded High” is a watermark moment on the album, a relatively upbeat number replete with multi-tracked falsetto vocals by Dessa. “Spanish Platnium” begins in typical Gayngs fashion, hollow sounding drums with a liquid solo guitar breezily panning from headphone to headphone, some saxophone in there (why not?), but oscillating beneath the surface is a swirling guitar drone gluing the whole thing together. The 21st century is not lost on Gayngs.
If Bon Iver fronting a soft rock band had you at “Bon,” Vernon’s vocal contributions do not disappoint. To those already familiar to his experiment in making autotune software cry on “Woods” off of 2009’s Blood Bank, his exclusively auto-tuned vocal contributions on “Spanish Platnium” and elsewhere are no surprise. But I think all of us took a step back when he trades Bone Thugs n’ Harmony (midwestern legends shamefully not called into the studio)-style call and response machine gun fast raps with P.O.S on the excellent, excellent, excellent album closer “The Last Prom on Earth” … Best musical moment of 2010. In fact lets call this one of the best albums of 2010, saxophones and all.