When I was eight years old, I (like most of my friends) wanted to be a superhero. We fantasized about having super powers and saving the city from villains attempting to disrupt our everyday lives. Just fantasizing about this life wasn’t enough for me, so I created my own comic book that my parents helped me get published. Although I didn’t grow up to become an animator (there’s still time), I’ve never lost my infatuation with imagination and world building. This infatuation and my love for music contributes to my appreciation for the new Relaxer LP, “Unreal/Cities.”In this album, Relaxer guides us through the creation of their own world, the building of its characters, the potential destruction and the triumphant battle to protect it.
I’ll start by letting you know that the story of “Unreal/Cities” comes with alternate endings, and I suggest you digest both in full. If you opt for the vinyl record, you get seven songs, and the story ends with “Window/Path.” And if you go the digital route, you get six songs, and the story ends with “Order/Operate.”
The album kicks off with “The Marksman,” an introduction to the city and our hero. The opening gritty guitar riff holds the base of the song down while drums, synth and ambient looping noise guitar fills more space as we get a glimpse of different parts of downtown. As the song continues to build, we get a first look at some henchmen that are committing a crime they won’t get to see through (thanks to our hero). When guitarist/vocalist Joseph Scott sings “The sky opens up,” the stage is set for our nemesis that is soon to be revealed.
“Catch/Phase” and “Crystal Garden” collectively introduce our villain, his/her lair and the crime wave that will essentially lead to our impending battle between good and evil. While “Catch/Phase” features Stephen Clements on synth with delay identical to raindrops hitting a puddle, this song represents the stone walls of a hideout where the stolen goods are housed. “Crystal Garden” gives us our first look at the mastermind behind it all. In a matte black suit and Shredder-like steel mask, stabby guitar riffs paired with Brad Thorla’s snare rolls set the moment for the villain to address his followers and inspire all-out terror on the city to lure out our hero. The plan works, and this leads us into “The Priest,” a seemingly impossible predicament for the side of good as the hero has to choose between saving lives and losing the villain, or losing innocent lives and becoming a villain.
A melancholy tremolo guitar leads on “The Priest,” as the song plays like a cry for help, a prayer to the skie you don’t believe in, but tribulations have led you to question everything. Joseph sings, “Please forgive my indiscretions” and “Your crime is believing” with an evident disdain for self. The tide turns halfway through the seven-minute self reflection, and when “The Warlord” kicks in, it plays as a brave pursuit into the final battle. Guitarist Jamie Stillman and Joseph engage in persuasive dueling prog riffs mixed with screeching vocals that leave it all on the battlefield. Our hero prevails and the city is safe until the next major threat.
The alternate endings play the same as outros in intention but differ in emotion. “Order/Operate” is a celebratory psych Rock-n-Roll tune that shows the hero surveying the city for new threats atop the tallest building, while “Window/Path” challenges itself musically as the vocals against the guitar’s melodies stemmed the only moment where I awoke from the storyline. A beautiful grand piano signals the brightest segment of the album and signifies that through all the destruction and turmoil, it was all for the greater good.
“Unreal/Cities” isn’t an album, it’s a soundtrack that plays like a mix between Sin City and Civil War. The engineer Ben Vehorn made sure every sound has a place in the mix to breathe life comfortably. While I felt nuts writing this, I reminded myself that music is supposed to trigger the imagination and this album did exactly that.
Find Relaxer on the web at relaxersystem.bandcamp.com or on Facebook: @RelaxerSystem. The record release show for “Unreal/Cities” is Friday, October 13, 8 pm with UNO Lady and Eskimo Sisters at Musica. Tickets are only $5, and as a special bonus, Stephen Clements is returning to the stage to play synth with the band for this show only.