Risk Relay – Low Frequency Listener

Risk Relay
Low Frequency Listener

I spent the first 20 minutes listening to Risk Relay’s solid debut Low Frequency Listener trying to resolve a nagging question that kept coming back to frustrate me, a question whose answer still eludes me despite a flurry or three of brain racking that yielded no results. Just who the hell do these guys sound like? This is one of those albums that seem instantly recognizable and comfortably familiar, but when you try to pinpoint any one particular band as a source, you’re left at a loss, clutching at straws.
For the record, Risk Relay are a loud and aggressive post punk quartet from New Brunswick, New Jersey that combine slashing angular guitars with tight breakneck rhythms to create voracious music that is strong and defiant. For reasons I cannot fully explain, Risk Relay remind me strongly of Steve Albini’s ex-group Rapeman, not so much in the music, but tonally there is some of that thick dry twang in the guitars and deep throbbing boom in the drums that goes right for the gut. Singer and guitarist Ed Dailey also has that Albini scowl and growl down pat complete, with the offbeat phrasing and odd, stream-of-consciousness lyrics that are part wry humor and part seething disgust. Musically the band seems more interested in emulating the twisted, writhing guitar flurries of Unwound mixed with a healthy dose of DC-style post punk tension-and-release. Bands like The Crownhate Ruin and Hoover come to mind, as does early Fugazi, which is, to say the least, some pretty darn good company to be keeping.
But despite these obvious touchstones, Risk Relay manages to stand out on their own with an impressive combination of intelligent songwriting, impassioned playing, and, yes, some risk taking. The furious opener, “C is for Conspire, D is for Desire,” and the scorching follow up, “The Terror of Closet Patriots,” prove that Dailey and fellow guitar slinger Mark Weinberg are well-versed in the art of dueling guitars, churning out thick coils of intertwining riffs and competing melodies that are brimming with manic intensity. The rhythm section is equally potent. Drummer Brian Buccellato, in particular, is an animal, pounding out his staccato beats and polyrhythmic explosions with tremendous skill and precision. On “The Hub City,” he is a virtual one-man wrecking crew annihilating everything in his path. Bassist Steve Merritt’s steady grooves and serpentine bass lines are the glue that hold everything together and keep it from tearing apart at the seams.
Admittedly, much of Low Frequency Listener eventually becomes a blur. Risk Relay is all about energy and volume and have little patience for things like subtlety or restraint. There are plenty of dynamics to get your adrenaline pumping, but after a while, the incessantly driving guitars and relentless rhythms begin to get derivative, and one song becomes indistinguishable from the next. It would do the band some good to interject some slower, softer material every once in a while for color and texture, but at eight songs there is not enough material for the listener to get bogged down or overwhelmed. All in all, this is a promising debut.