RLYR review

Instrumental bands, no matter the weight of the talent behind them, have historically had a niche audience. The distinct lack of vocals often made pinning down the figurate voice of the band a difficult task. Yet Chicago-based RLYR, on their third LP, have never sounded more confident in their own voice. Oscillating between blistering and dissociative in wild spectacle, the band’s appropriately self-titled work is perhaps a greater thesis for them, one that values a stunning prog-rock complexity and earthy post-rock grounding. 

Opening track “Distructure” begins with a haunting ambient space, transitioning to a massive guitar rich with reverb. This familiar progression and sonic structure that tends to permeate post-rock spaces is quickly abandoned. Instead, there’s something unique and unfamiliar, expectations subverted in the best of ways. Every player seems intent on starting journeys into individual soundscapes. Colin DeKuiper’s gauzy bass carries a harmony that borders on something you could hear in a pop driven space. 

These micro-harmonies are introduced throughout, magnified passage by passage, sometimes to startling effect. Trading potential for a droning post-rock spectacle or navelgazing math-rock sonnet for a respectable harmony that simply hums. Instead the weight of the album isn’t carried by its efforts to purposefully shift throughout so many genres, but rather its core synergy. 

It’s not all fleeting and featherlight; “Wrack” heavily chugs without losing any of its warmth. Drummer Steven Hess leans heavily into fills, which over squelching guitars and a blissful bass, ends up sound as aggressively pleasant as one could possibly imagine. The sonic space that RLYR creates here is full of spastic, explosive qualities that exemplify the band’s post-music pedigree in spades. 

Departing from lush soundscapes, “Real Air” snaps forth, propulsively led by a teetering time signature, leaning heavily into the band’s metal experience while proving that there’s no singular sound that they aren’t willing to experiment with throughout. The track’s ending finally allows Trevor Shelley de Brauw’s conceptual guitar work to flourish and take center stage. From buzzsaw riffs to an explosive denouement, this track allows the band to work through every heavier inclination.  

The final evolution of the album, the moment at which RLYR seems to finally embrace the inclination of modern post-rock is on “Codeine Horse” which evokes a peculiarly delicate structure at first, an airy percussive suite, leading to a bleeding bass and eventually a crisp guitar. Each structure is in full conversation with each other, eventually crescendoing into the ether, its payoff only matched by the sheer magnitude and scale of its ascent. Curiously though, the band negates the more cosmic intent of some of their contemporaries by feeling substantially more grounded. This carries forth to another passage that leads to another, even greater escalation, which sounds entirely coated in psychedelic rock, scratchy guitar tones eventually eclipsing in sludge territory, fading into a spectacular amp drawdown. 

RLYR are perfecting their instrumental choreography as fully fledged artists and as a cohesive whole, that much can’t really be disputed. But what insight this album manages to provide isn’t as important as its cathartic residue, encapsulated best in its incredibly dynamic production and unwavering commitment to rampant experimentation. Through this, RLYR interrogates what drives them as artists, and that sublimity is on display throughout. 

Label: Gilead

Year: 2022

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