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Yes - Relayer CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.37 | 3177 ratings

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5 stars Though they would have been forgiven if they had needed several years to recharge after the achievement of their previous effort, 'Tales From Topographic Oceans', Yes returned in 1974 with 'Relayer'. For this turbo-charged album the five-piece channel hard rock, folk, electronic, classical, blues and jazz elements in a concoction not heard before and never heard again, complete with an unabashed science-fiction/fantasy flavour, poetic lyrics and fierce musical dexterity. Taking the theme of sending or embodying a message of great importance - 'relaying' - this is probably their heaviest and most energetic work, clearly showing the influence that progressive contemporaries such as King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra had on the members of the band at the time. Nevertheless, the classic Yes optimism is present and as distinctive and refreshing as ever, delivering the three new tracks with sincerity and musicianship a cut above even the bands mentioned. The contribution of new keyboardist Patrick Moraz also adds a new dimension of bright, futuristic synthesizer tones throughout, and his inspired fusion-like soloing is a key factor of this album's uniqueness in the Yes discography. Arguably, 'Relayer' represents the band at the very peak of their creative output, with all five musicians putting in remarkable performances for the duration, and each voice knitting together effortlessly.

'The Gates Of Delirium' opens with the group already in full swing, as fluttering synthesizers, strummed bass guitar harmonics and freeform electric guitar melodies combine to create an impression of the comings and goings in a grand, airy city of some glorious civilisation. This scene unfolds very naturally, the band occasionally joining forces to introduce the regal, fanfare-like themes that will feature later in the track, and culminates in a staccato phrase played in unison which decelerates elegantly within each bar - a real statement of extravagance. There is a martial order and confidence to the music, suggesting an attitude of honoured duty - even romanticism - towards a coming conflict revealed through the first lyrics sung by Jon Anderson.

From the 3.00 mark, things subtly start to move in a more aggressive and fanatical direction as the band swing ominously to and from a minor third, and the fighting words are strung together with more ardour and urgency. Of particular note here is the colourful counterpoint provided by Chris Squire's bass lines, very rarely acting as a mere highlighter but instead adding a whole other dimension of melody to the proceedings - one breathtaking example being the selection of notes that dance beneath the otherwise simple guitar/synth line at 3.19. Next, one of the track's more beautiful contrasts appears, in the form of a quieter break where the narrating faction consider the heavy costs of the war, and very nearly repent. For me, the chant-like meter and placement of this solemn bridge as part of the larger piece captures well the intriguing atmosphere of fateful decisions made in dark halls.

This opportunity is quickly lost, however, as suspicion and prideful vengeance re-ignite the lust for war, and after one further verse of incitation the band launch into three consecutive instrumental phases depicting the chaos of the battlefield. With strong, strident rhythms driving each stage, the scene is discordant yet methodical, at times utterly frenzied and other times building steadily in triumph. The constant din of a crowd in the background, and the inclusion of feral wailing, buzzing machinery and crashes of metal, help to place the listener at the very heart of this darkest of human situations. Steve Howe's slide steel guitar is particularly effective during the final push, where the melody rises and rises to a point of almost unbearable tension before dissipating in a staggered moment of realisation and exhaustion.

What emerges slowly through the settling dust is perhaps the single most life-affirming passage of music in progressive rock. As an excerpt that came to be known in isolation as 'Soon', it is still effective, but when heard in context - lifting away the weight of all the doubt and violence that has gone before - it is profoundly moving. Anderson's lyrics characterise light as not only the peaceful dawn after the dark night of war, not only ascent out of despair, but as life itself: created from light, crafting light, and belonging to the world of light. The very definition of epic, truly heartfelt vocals drift on a sea of more yearning steel guitar, impeccably-placed bass notes, and layers of mellotron strings. This soaring finale renders the events up to this point as almost a distant memory to which we are looking back - a page of history we do not forget but have accepted and overcome - the last few quiet, uncertain chords leaving the story as a monument looming in the mists of time.

In the second piece, 'Sound Chaser', the more complex moments glimpsed briefly in 'The Gates Of Delirium' are harnessed and expanded into one of Yes' most rhythmically adventurous works. Loud, cerebral, and lyrically far more abstract than the first track, the aim here seems to have been to capture a sense of boundless energy and creative force in musical form, and in doing so celebrate our relationship with sound, technology, artistic liberty, as well as how all this connects us to one another - 'as is my want, I only reach to look in your eyes'. Cementing Steve Howe's virtuosity as one of the defining elements of 'Relayer', the middle third of this piece is a stunning electric guitar solo, a raw fusion of stream-of-consciousness phrases, hinting and probing with a biting blues tone, which is gradually joined by keyboards and then Anderson's soft words in a short period of reflection amidst the excitement.

'To Be Over', the third and final piece, opens somewhat mercifully in much gentler terrain, as the steel guitar returns and along with organ and sitar-like guitar weaves a cyclical, laid back melody evoking a contented and summery atmosphere. This moves softly into the first song section, where words of reassurance sung in cascading harmony reinforce the sense of peace. A motif of the album, the underlying rhythm is very simple but again marked out and interlocked with more interestingly placed bass, making the musical foundation seem alive and less passive throughout. We then open into some sublime instrumental passages, with lead guitar once again stealing the show for two solo spots (plus a joyous duet with Patrick Moraz's synth later) as the positivity is set free, still passionate but more serene in contrast to 'Sound Chaser'. From here until the close of the album, including two further blissfully emotional vocal sections, it feels like the music is always climbing and repeatedly resolving, moving forward and taking changes in its stride. In this way, 'to be over' could be interpreted to mean 'to be complete, to be whole'; again an expression by the band of a state of stability, preparedness for the future with the worst behind us.

Welcome to 'Relayer', another astonishing album that could only have happened in the creative climate of the mid-'70s. This isn't music to pass the time - disarm, engage your imagination, approach as you would a classic of epic poetry, and allow yourself to be overwhelmed.

ThulŽatan | 5/5 |


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