A little over five years ago (on June 8th, 2007 to be precise), Paul Zyla published an album under his alias Relative Q. This release, titled ‘Small Craft Exercise Caution’, is one of my favourite netlabel releases of all time so I thought it only fair to share it with all of you. The album was the 30th release on One Records, a great label also representing the likes of Emil Klotzsch or Makunouchi Bento. This label specializes in what they describe as “edgey electronic music, occasionally straying off into the corners of post and experimental pop”. What I associate with a lot of their releases, however, is pure, raw melancholy. And none captures these emotions so brilliantly as Relative Q does.
Paul Zyla lists his influences as Herbie Hancock, pop music in general and Brian Eno. But above all he is inspired by, as he himself puts it, “an overwhelming sense of melancholy”. We’ve heard these terms thrown around before, but in this case, I must say it’s absolutely true. Most of the tracks are centered around the duet between electric piano sounds and drum machines. The drums are often bent and warped and magnified by baroque amounts of reverb. The result? Electronic music that is about as heart-wrenching as the synth lead in Autechre’s Clipper, though sounding a lot more organic than the latter.
The tempo and intensity of the songs on this release aren’t exactly fixed, as they are largely dependent on the emotion conveyed through the songs. Where some of them actually seem rather upbeat (the cheap disco beat from ‘Fairer Shores’ comes to mind), even those songs carry in them so much feeling it just oozes out of your speakers. Don’t be fooled by the face superficiality of the arpeggiators or some of the drum elements, this release delivers where it counts. And when Relative Q turns on the hurt, there’s really nowhere to run. ‘The ghosts came quickly’ is better avoided if you’re having a bit of an off-day, lest you spend the rest of it in bed, eating cereal. ‘No Sympathy’ is just that: an unrelenting barrage of snare hits in an almost 2-step-like drumbeat combined with an assault of spacey synths and a bass line that is not quite growling but moody nonetheless. I enjoyed the long parts of static in the opening and closing song my first few times listening, but they’re about the only part of the album that feel a bit too over the top. No, I take that back. They’re just right. All in all, this is one of the best soundtracks moody people could ever wish for. I have no idea what Pittsburg, Pennsylvania is like, but it must be one dark place during winter.
Relative Q – Sun Rises over the Undeserved
This review was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.