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Jay Reatard - Matador Singles ’08

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Artist: Jay Reatard

Album: Matador Singles ’08

Label: Matador

Review date: Oct. 16, 2008

Four and a half months ago, Dusted’s Ben Donnelly called Jay Reatard’s furious spate of 2006 into 2008 releases an avalanche "similar to the 30 months that produced The Ramones, Leave Home,Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin, or the seven LPs of music the Clash did between 1977 and 1980 and Husker Du did between 1984 and 1987." He added, "Twenty years from now, I bet it will still sound as great as those do now. There’s still nothing like the sound of an avalanche as it’s plowing you under."

Reatard was, even as Donnelly wrote this, cranking out the singles for Matador at a rate of two a month, and that was just the stuff that made vinyl. (In interviews, he says that if he goes home for a week, he will typically write 14 or more songs.) He is apparently not one of those people who sits around wondering what they should do next.

And yet, even if he’s not consciously thinking about how his work will evolve, Reatard seems to have found a new direction. In this second collection of singles for 2008, you can see him move gradually away from the distorted, garage punk blowouts of Blood Visions towards a rough sort of classic pop. You can’t listen to "See Saw" without remembering the short, sharp assaults of Reatard’s earlier solo work (that is, if you’ve heard it). You can’t hear "An Ugly Death," just three songs and a couple of months later, without thinking of Phil Spector.

You could argue, obviously, that there has always been a hard melodic core to Reatard’s songs; that even buried under layers of fuzz and compression, there were real, memorable tunes. Still, it seems clear that Reatard has done considerably more than scrape off the dirt here. He is sawing down the punk garage box from the inside and emerging as a mainstream pop star. To take Donnelly’s analogy further, if Blood Visions parallels the Clash’s self-titled debut, then with these intermediary singles, Reatard is gathering up speed for his London Calling.

Consider, for instance, his mid-compilation flirtation with Deerhunter/Atlas Sound’s Bradford Cox. (And possibly more than a flirtation. The single’s art shows them naked, in bed, Cox smoking a post-coital cigarette, Reatard wrapped around him.) It’s an odd pairing, on the surface, with Deerhunter’s music falling more into the MBV-ish sheets of sound category, while Reatard’s hews to pogo-beat, blues-damaged punk. And yet, look a little closer and you’ll notice that Reatard and Cox share a macabre fascination with death and dying, a confrontational live show, and a love of Brian Eno’s alternate pop realities. Cox’s cover of "Oh, It’s Such A Shame" isn’t included here, but Reatard’s take on "Flourescent Grey" is, an eerie, reverb-swathed meditation on death and dissolution that has far more space and echo that Reatard’s typically crowded recordings. If Blood Visions sounded like the Oblivians, this track is more like a rough-cut Joy Division.

"Flourescent Grey" splits the album in half. The songs before it are closer to Blood Visions punk. The ones after it spin off into damaged pop territory. That’s partly a function of cleaner production. For instance, you can hear the sticks-on-rims percussion in "Trapped Here" with perfect clarity. They would have disappeared into the murk on tracks like "See Saw" or "Painted Shut." But it’s also a willingness to counter dark, paranoid lyrical content with brighter, more pop-centric melodies. "Trapped Here"‘s big chorus chants "Relax, relax, relax, my little victim," an uneasy stalker vibe buried in its unstoppable melodic hook. "Hiding in My Hole" ties the album’s ear-stickiest tune to lyrics about alienation and dysfunction.

The final three cuts are, perhaps, the bravest, with Reatard switching to a jangly, acoustic sound that evokes the Clean or, closer to home, acoustic Sic Alps. Here, we finally see what happens when you strip all the muck off his aggressive, angsty tunes and the pure pop emerges. It’s a risky move, but well worth it. "When You Were Sleeping" is as good as any of his fast songs and completely different, a Beatles-via-Kiwi-pop lullaby whose softness masks strong melodic infrastructure. "I’m Watching You," too, has the lilt and ease of classic 1960s pop (along with the punk confrontation that comes from using the word "cunt").

Great garage punkers inevitably repeat themselves. The genre is just too narrow not to. Great pop stars, by contrast, continually reinvent themselves. Think of the Beatles evolving from Meet the Beatles to Rubber Soul or the Kinks moving from their self-titled to The Village Green Preservation Society. Reatard isn’t there yet – and maybe he’ll never arrive – but he is certainly moving in a promising direction.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Jay Reatard

Blood Visions

Singles 06-07

Watch Me Fall

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