In spite of sporadic releases and minimal live performances, Relay for Death has managed to hold on to the fervor and excitement that 2010’s Birth of an Older, Much More Ugly Christ LP generated. Their most recent work, Anxiety of the Eye, was released during Summer Scum 5 (July 9-10 2016)—a wholly appropriate release for the final scumfest. Thankfully, No Rent Records made this release available outside of NYC for those of us who remain trapped in wage-labor hell. Again: Anxiety of the Eye is a wholly appropriate release.
This album is all about waves, the turning of the wheel, and passageways. The titular track opens with muted synth tones—a telephone hanging off the receiver, the amplified sound of a television screen, fluorescent bulbs—which fade completely into silence. A field recording of crickets and water fades in before being truncated by metallic thudding. When the high-frequency harsh noise kicks in, the physical reaction is unavoidable: a gasp, a blink, a turn of the head. A metallic sheen hangs over the track; a veneer of reverb and magnetic tape warble over droning loop and oxygen tank hissing. Just as suddenly, a change emerges. As “Anxiety of the Eye” progresses, the sounds and structure become more mechanical, rhythmic, and motorized. Almost every change in texture happens—no pun intended—within the blink of an eye.
“Western Sensorium” draws from the same family of sounds and textures as “Anxiety of the Eye” but structures them differently. Here, each fine-grained texture wavers—audible fata morgana—over and through one another. The sounds seem to match the title: grains, wisps, shimmers, and desert sounds. This is, by rough estimation, the audio equivalent of a salt flat basin. All the more fitting since, according to the liner notes, Afton Canyon, Death Valley, Lone Pine, and Macaulay Foundry all feature as sound sources. The B-side is both meditative and subtly unnerving—a true “calm before the storm” sort of unease or disquiet. The low-end rumbles churn beneath hissing waves like distant thunder underneath a dry breeze.
Much like Birth of an Older, Much More Ugly Christ, this release demands multiple sessions, both actively and passively engaging with the music to find different layers and textures. Relay for Death tracks tend to unfold, obscure, and reveal themselves differently at certain points, and thankfully their work stands up to repeated listens. At the rate they have been going, we might not hear from them until 2021; at least, though, there is this. A postcard from wherever: “We are alive. We are working. Thank you.”
Side A) Anxiety of the Eye
Side B) Western Sensorium