Walking the delicate line of post-punk's skeletal chill and electronic dance is a difficult thing to balance. It's easy to lean too far towards the minimal arrangement and completely lose all rhythm, or too much the other way and any magic of an actual human performance is reduced to a couple of silhouettes illuminated by laptop screens ignoring the audience in front of them. Relations has seemingly absorbed and combined the best of both approaches into a promising new self-titled four track EP on 100m Records.
The first song, "Take No Sides", hangs on distorted electric guitar melodies, the manic strums cleverly controlling a harmonic distortion, riding a line of feedback. The rhythm is driving straight ahead, dense with a thousand tiny elements: shaker, metallic hi hat stand plinks, the wooden slap from an emulated snare. The energy they extract from the inhuman elements is impressive. But all of these things are just the foundation for their guitar experimentation; the melodies rising out of carefully crafted unorthodox approaches to the instrument. In Relations' hands, the guitar is a blunt object, incapable of complex melody; it exists only to roughly shape the direction.
"Careless Days" is another example of their contradiction of straight chord centric rock, heavy with electronics, which they're never trying to hide, the mechanical parts clearly in view while the crunchy sustain is steering it away from anything exclusively dance. There's a coolness that runs deep, all the way back to the revolt against messy, apathetic, no-future punk, and borrows from the bleak factory landscape.
It's a nostalgic vision of the possibilities of technology and the warning shot. It's working in the same way I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness has approached the same question, with a sincere reevaluation of the glory days of electronics and everything that came after Joy Division. Where Relations gets everything right is in their soaring epic guitar over the head down automated rhythm in "Songbirds". Their blunt instrumentation swings wildly across the lockstep groove taking the layered fuzz out of a post rock place into aggressive shoegaze. They combine the dissonant layers with a subtle amount of programming, just enough to hint at the rigid structure but still able to improvise. After all, Relations is still crafting solid rock.
Guitar distortion and a snappy static stand in for a snare. There's a way to get the two of these back together and Relations has four compelling examples.