Jorge Luis Borges, in his collection A Universal History of Infamy, offers brief, fictionalized accounts of extraordinary men who purport to be something other than what they are — and, more importantly, other than what they appear to be. One story, “The Improbable Impostor Tom Castro,” stands out as an example of breathtakingly brazen fraud. One man, in an act of nearly unfathomable chutzpah, claims to be the dead son of aristocratic family despite bearing absolutely no resemblance to their deceased heir. His logic — or, perhaps more fittingly, illogic — is what holds relevance to this discussion: only a man who was wholly and utterly dissimilar could be genuine. All others, in their attempts at authenticity, must be ringers, cunning fakes.
Gayngs, a Minneapolis quasi-supergroup, are nothing if not impostors. Led by Ryan Olson, Zack Coulter, and Adam Hurlburt, the 20-some-large collective traffics in an imitation of the AM radio aesthetic; Relayted, Gayngs’ first album is itself a facile facsimile intended to pass as the genuine article. Gayngs, like Tom Castro, in no way resembles 10cc, their advertised influences, but they succeed precisely because of their lack of similarity. Rather than existing as a slavish reproduction, Relayted oozes smarm and easygoing charm in equal parts. Insincerity becomes Gayngs’ greatest asset, their jocular attitude restraining any fetishistic fidelity to their supposed mode.
All of this so far is little more than a pretentious way of stating the obvious: Gayngs, despite tongues stuck partially in cheek, are pretty good at making soft rock. Granted, the majority of Relayted’s 11 tracks are too baggy to ever crash the mainstream. Some songs, like “The Walker” — sung by The Rosebuds’s Ivan Howard — stretch one idea — little more than a mood, really — to the point of impotence. But ambiance goes a long way, and even the less developed numbers make for excellent make-out music. This amorous intent is palpable throughout and adds a secondary level of enjoyment, which rewards peripheral attention. “The Gaudy Side of Town,” Relayted’s throbbing opener, sets the tone; a hazy and garish slow jam, sung improbably enough by Justin Vernon, it more than matches the expectations set by its title. Vernon, of recent Bon Iver fame, is Gayngs’ vocal MVP. His two contributions are the most fleshed-out, the most successfully synthetic on offer.
Appropriate to its lack of authenticity, Relayted’s other standout is also its least accomplished moment. “Cry,” a cover of Godley & Creme’s forgotten hit, rescues the song from obscurity, but never improves upon the original. Even slowed down, “Cry” manages to be one of the record’s most insistent tracks, chugging away with a guitar line more reminiscent of Roland Orzabal than monsieur Creme. Hints of other iconic 80s instrumentalists emerge from the record’s constant haze, such as “Crystal Rope“‘s Mark Knopflerian underpinings or P.O.S.’s unexpected and impressive Michael McDonald impression on “No Sweat.”
Though more consistent in tone than in quality, Relayted is easy to criticize but difficult to dismiss. Gayngs’ obvious flaws serve a crucial purpose; as in that Borges story, they perform a resurrection, through acts of chutzpah. Few would mistake Gayngs for the targets of their theft, but those looking for a resurgence of the smoother, softer side of rock will be more than willing to let them pass, no matter how improbable (and unrelayted) the resemblance might be.