[In the Red; 2008]
As far as singles compilations go, two years might seem like a pretty narrow window. Then again, just as the two- or three-minute songs from Jay Reatard feel epic, he's given his fans a near-career's worth of riches in that time. It's true that nearly one-third of these tracks are demos and alternate versions of songs from 2006's Blood Visions, but he hasn't rested on his laurels for one moment since then. This compilation is beyond helpful for collecting so many one-off singles, and actually makes for an excellent intro into the world of Reatard for the uninitiated.
Anyone who's caught Jay Lindsey and his band live over the past year or so has probably heard "Night of Broken Glass": It's a simple but effective juxtaposition that sums up Lindsey's reference points fairly well, from the Devo-brand jerkiness of the verse into one of his most breathless punk-rock choruses. (It speaks to the man's casual approach to history to have what sounds like an empathetic warning song from a guy whose last side project was named the Final Solutions.) Those only familiar with Blood Visions may be surprised by the other tracks from the Night of Broken Glass EP. "Another Person" has perky carnival keyboards, stiff new-wave affectations, and sophisticated self-harmonizing, while the foreboding lyrics in "All Over Again" are betrayed by a swinging and sweet backing track without a flying-V guitar in sight.
"I Know a Place" and its B-side, "Don't Let Him Come Back", are just as disarmingly gentle, but it further speaks to a songwriter steeped in punk traditions who's absorbed a lot more than his album covers might suggest-- not in the least bands like the Go-Betweens, who originally recorded the deep cut "Don't Let Him Come Back" in 1979, with Reatard following suit after Grant McLennan's had passed in 2006. It's a faithful, acoustically driven version marked by Reatard's hiss-soaked multi-tracked vocals, making his lonely yelp into a basement chorus line.
"Hammer I Miss You" is slow and loopy power-pop that struts rather than races, with a great faraway wail and a guitar part like a downhill snowball for the chorus. But between the staccato full stops of "All Wasted" and the screeching vocal of "It's So Useless", its B-sides might do the best job of reconciling his former, younger fury with his just-slightly slower punk-pop of late. "In the Dark" is one of Reatard's most explicit Wire nods, though it's mid-tempo beat is still infectiously urgent, the single for which also featured two sluggish lo-fi demos of what would be two Blood Visions stand outs, "Searching For You" and "Haunting You" (which would be renamed "Nightmares" and Fading All Away", respectively-- the promo we reviewed inverted the titles, but both demos are clearly named from key lyrics in each.) Here, they seem to sink underneath the melodrama of the broken relationship they detail; "Searching for You" holds up, as it's an uncharacteristically wistful song for Reatard, while "Haunting You" doesn't fare as well-- hearing a lyric like "I won't stop until you're dead" isn't quite the same without the clattering engine of the band behind it.
Those unexpected quirks are more evident on the "Blood Demos" 7" released on Stained Circles. The title track is just as biting as its album counterpart, but its chorus melody is more static and the transition between it and the verses much less smooth, while the juxtaposition of the sterile verses to the careening chorus of "Turning Blue" was sacrificed for a more manic and more streamlined approach on the record. That said, there's still something happening here; a sense of melody and purpose that still lifts them above the other exemplary singles from Blood Visions. Letting the seams show a bit with these demos not only reveals a bit about his process, but it illuminates the link between his earlier career and his recent breakthrough, while going a long way to prove that record was more than three or four chords and a fake accent.
Song for song, Blood Visions might still outclass this compilation (though this is certainly more diverse), but again, mind those dates at the top: In this short span of time Reatard cranked out more memorable songs then some acts do in their whole careers. If there's a creeping criticism to be had, it's that Jay Reatard solo songs always sound like Jay Reatard, be they slow or fast, quiet or loud, played on synths or guitars. It's a fine line between consistency and stasis that he's toeing, and something to bear in mind as he continues as he continues to record for Matador. For a songwriter hitting this kind of unstoppable stride over the past two years, however, it's a moot point. Whether you watch that DVD or not, it's an era worth celebrating.
- Jason Crock, July 3, 2008
Summer tour schedule including dates with Spoon, Cheap Time, Les Savy Fav, and Pitchfork Fest appearance.
07/14/08 @ Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia PA
07/15/08 @ Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, w/Spoon
07/16/08 @ Lupo’s Providence RI w/Spoon
07/19/08 @ Pitchfork Festival, Chicago, IL
07/21/08 @ Triple Rock Minneapolis MN w/Cheap Time
07/22/08 @ The Aquarium, Fargo, ND w/Cheap Time
07/25/08 @ Capitol Hill block Party, Seattle WA
07/26/08 @ Commodore Ballroom Vancouver, BC w/Les Savy Fav
07/27/08 @ Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR w/Cheap Time
07/29/08 @ Independent, San Francisco CA w/Cheap Time
07/30/08 @ Echo, Los Angeles, CA w/Cheap Time
07/31/08 @ Casbah, San Diego, CA w/Cheap Time
08/1/08 @ Hollywood Alley, Mesa, AZ w/Cheap Time
08/3/08 @ Red 7, Austin, TX, w/Cheap Time