Few late night smoke sessions have ever coalesced as well as Relayted, the debut record from the bacchanalian collective known as Gayngs. As a matter of fact, most ideas hatched in the fume-filled, hazy post-midnight hours are often forgotten in the harsh light of the morning, while the schemes that are remembered are often quickly disregarded once those involved sober up and asses the merits of their half-baked plans. So, the fact that these musicians (a blend of over 20 artists from predominantly Midwestern bands) actually recorded a full album, and found a well-respected indie label (Jagjaguwar) to release the fruits of their cloudy, ramshackle recording sessions is somewhat of a minor miracle. The fact that a majority of the record is actually quite good is a testament not only to the talents of those involved in the project, but also to some darker, diabolical intervention that obviously was determined to have a new soundtrack to get down to in Hell.
Gayngs is the brainchild of producer Ryan Olson of Digitata, who initially conceived the project with the help of fellow Minneapolis musicians Zack Coulter and Adam Hurlburt of Solid Gold, during one of those aforementioned endless evenings. The concept was born out of a shared love of 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love,’ and a laughable conceit to record an entire album featuring tracks recorded at 69 beats-per-minute. It’s conceivable that once everyone had a chance to clear their heads the next day, they would’ve realized how preposterous the whole thing sounded. But it’s to Olson’s credit that he believed in the project enough to not only see it through, but to also convince a veritable who’s who of Twin Cities (and beyond) talent to lend their talents to the quickly swelling supergroup. In addition to Hurlburt and Coulter, fellow Solid Gold member Shon Troth got involved, as well as Justin Vernon and Mike Noyce of Bon Iver, Brad & Phil Cook and Joe Westerlund of Megafaun, Mike Lewis from Happy Apple/Andrew Bird, P.O.S. and Dessa from Doomtree, Ivan Howard from the Rosebuds, Maggie Morrison and Grant Cutler from Lookbook, and Jake Luck and Nick Ryan from Leisure Birds, to name more than just a few. All in all, more than 20 different musicians got involved in the eclectic, ever-churning sonic stew that became Gayngs.
So, the backstory is intriguing and the guest stars captured your attention, but how is the music? Even though it does tend to get a bit plodding towards the end, due to the strict bpm requirements, the songs are indeed spirited and quite sexy, full of fresh surprises as well as heartfelt homages. The album starts with the slow-building strut of ‘The Gaudy Side Of Town,’ featuring Vernon and Coulter trading verses over the soulful rhythm, which should clue you in right away if this album is for you or not. If you find it stimulating, keep listening, for things get even better. If you think it sounds too much like a porn soundtrack, well, you’re not that far off either. A warm, passionate version of Godley & Creme’s ‘Cry’ is a clear standout of the first half, as is P.O.S.’ surprisingly smooth crooning on the electrifying ‘No Sweat.’ The songs are often guided along by Lewis’ stellar saxophone solos, which are decadent and soaring throughout the record, as well as Olson’s steady production, which continually makes these retro concepts sound refreshingly modern.
‘False Bottom’ is a tense, jazzy freakout that forms a smooth segue to the record’s second half, which kicks off with the audacious anthem ‘The Beatdown,’ featuring a rousing chorus of “I will die young” that introduces the track formidably. The album then lags a bit under the weight of its own limits, before the dynamically vigorous arrival of ‘Faded High,’ which stands out both because it’s a strong, uplifting song and also the fact it was recorded at 138 bpm (69 x 2, naturally), setting it apart from the slow pulse of the other tracks. Vocal duties on ‘Faded High’ are handled mellifluously by Dessa and Channy Caselle (Roma di Luna) before Vernon again lends his recognizable voice to the number towards the end. It’s an stirring, infectious track that is a shining example of what can happen when talented musicians end up in the same room together, even though a majority of these contributions happened individually, without the artists ever knowing what the rest of the song sounded like.
No matter the situation, when you take someone out of their comfort zone, interesting things are bound to happen, even if they prove not to be perfect. A clear example is Vernon giving us his best Bone Thugs-n-Harmony ‘rap’ during the furtive album closer ‘The Last Prom On Earth,’ a tender ode to bygone days that also features a silly spoken-word riff from Howard. Even though it’s all a bit comical, it never borders on parody, for these musicians are all delivering impassioned cameos that add up to more than they really should. The musical makeup of Gayngs isn’t built to last, that was never the intention. Relayted is a fleeting moment that should be celebrated, like the prom itself, and even though in these type of situations expectations are always bound to exceed reality, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get dressed up and dance anyway.