Jeremy Jay - "It Happened Before Our Time" (Splash)
Splash is the latest album from Jeremy Jay, the first of two to be released this year, and his fifth album overall. It’s certainly an enjoyable album, but Jay more than often conjures up the feeling of other bands — the first song sounds very much like Luna and other songs throughout feel like New Zealand indie pop — without ever shining through himself. This isn’t to take away from Jay’s ability to craft a song, but merely to say that without a strong sense of the songwriter himself, the music doesn’t have weight to it. It lacks that central personality to gravitate around, and therefore, the songs feel too slight. Because Jay chooses a particularly minimalist style anyway, the slightness of songcraft and the slightness of the personality behind the songcraft tend to reinforce each other. It’s a catchy album and well worth listening to; however, Splash doesn’t hold much beyond the immediate.
One thing that prevents an honest connection with Jay’s music is the detached way he sings. I’m not ascribing this attitude to Jay himself, but the way he sings almost comes off as ‘too cool.’ There’s a slight tinge of emotion to his voice, but it’s buried under this detachment, a disconnection with the world around him. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have or never uses a forceful voice — in “This Is Our Time,” he definitely channels early Jonathan Richman — but it feels like Wes Anderson playing in the French New Wave sandbox, as if Jay recognizes the appeal of the aesthetic without understanding the emotional backbone that gives that aesthetic real meaning as opposed to empty form.
And I don’t think this description would be so abhorrent to Jay, either. On his MySpace band page, he proudly displays a blurb from Nylon Magazine about his third album Slow Dance that says as much:
“Sing-speak lyrics punctuate relentless synths and growling guitars, creating tracks that are as strange as they are cool. It’s a winning formula, and one that he continues on his latest album, Slow Dance. “In This Lonely Town” features an empty — but catchy — looping guitar melody, while “Slow Dance” is a meandering exercise in restrained pop….”
I’m not sure how positive the adjectives “cool,” “empty,” and “meandering” are, but Jay or his representation seemed proud enough to display it, so one would have to draw the conclusion that this detachment isn’t an accident, but rather a carefully chosen aesthetic strategy. If that’s his genuine choice as an artist, I can’t fault him, but neither can I find a real connection with him, either.