Relation - Fear Of Night

Owain Paciuszko 10/10/2009

Rating: 4/5

Essex electro duo Relation draw influences from the 1980s club-pop scene, and this is immediately obvious from the very first synth and Spandau Ballet-like vocals of Optimistic. On this track alone they've managed to nail the material sheen of the era with chrome-plated precision, and you're reaction to this neon-nostalgia will depend entirely on your own feelings towards the decade in question.

Andrew Leary and Oliver Keech met as children in Southend - rather aptly I spent a few of my formative years in that very same locale, during the eighties musical boom that this album encompasses - and discovered their shared love for dance music after playing in a variety of bands throughout school and university. In the early stages of this album their sound is in close proximity to the likes of Dan Black, to some extent it feels like a singer-songwriter showcase with Keech's voice prominent over Leary's rich backing tracks. However from the obtuse lyrics to the monochromatic artwork there's a distinctive lack of character and personality, that I would say is typical of the 80s but a little distancing as a kick-off to the LP.

Leary does great work building intricate and interesting soundscapes or recalling the halcyon days of Pet Shop Boys dancefloor dominance, such as on Lowest Common Denominator. Whilst the 80s seem to be the 'era of choice' at the moment in pop music there, to me, seems to be a certain level of insincerity (even beyond the time's obvious material obsession) with many artists currently adopting the style; Relation have managed that tricky feat of seeming totally genuine and well-versed in how they've adopted and adapted this chrono-genre. They also - on occasion - soak the blandness of the decade in enough to 21st century frills to really impress, especially on the fuzzy Way Outside, a track which brings to mind recent efforts by Soulwax and Nursery Rhyme/Breather; the track that Badly Drawn Boy did with Unkle.

Lefty sounds like the lost theme song to an unmade Timothy Dalton Bond movie, though it's hard to imagine a Bond film called 'Lefty', but lyrics like 'The more I take the more you lose/But I'm taking everything' seem apt. Meanwhile Easy Target has achingly familiar bass so reminiscent of something that it's replaced whatever it's reminding me of in my memory; it's part of this duo's skill that they can quickly recall much of what was great about the style they are heavily influenced by, yet add their own sonic stamp to things. Lyrically on this track things have picked up as well, with evocative imagery like 'Summer seasons in Blackpool and bad student discos' conjuring up memories and sensations.

If there are problems with this album they're in the pace of the record, which, at times, can be wearisome. It's not an album you would particularly sit down and consume, but rather one that would drift in and out of your thoughts, or - in places - take over a flashily lit night-club. When the songs are great they dash by, but there are a few instances where things slow to a crawl. However, these are the handicaps of the decade and it would be hard to really do homage to the time without the excess of shoulder-padding and bouffant poodle perms. What sets the album apart from similar contemporaries is its classiness and elegance, something I thought was lacking in Neon Neon's recent Stainless Style record. Relation's album seems much more like a well crafted product of the time, whilst the Gruff Rhys/Boom Bip offering felt like a knowing reenactment with tongue occasionally in cheek.

For fans of the era, or those discovering it via the current stylistic resurgence, you'd be hard pushed to find a better throwback with modern g(u?)ilting than this debut album.