I plugged into the hype surrounding Jay Reatard last year when I picked up the Matador Singles ’08 record. A good buddy had been extolling the necessity of climbing onboard the shortwagon (that’s a painful and awkward metaphor for joining a lot of other people in liking a guy whose stage name is a creative spelling of retard, a slur meaning a person of limited abilities who has to ride to school with other like-impaired people on a short bus- painful metaphor all my doing, no need to impugn said good buddy), and the Matador Singles had just come out. I skipped Bloodsongs. I skipped everything this guy did from the age of 16, and I just jumped right into the boutique-y, specialty audience stuff. Yeah. Boutique-y.
Jay Reatard carries off extremely simple song structures mainly on the merit of the the sense of urgency he performs them with. He frequently lapses into needlessly confrontational self-centered lyrics, though he breaks away from this this record’s excellent tracks Wounded and Before I was Caught. However, most of the rest of the record still has that eerily sociopathic Jay Reatard vibe that hangs coldly over all the tracks, no matter how quickly or brightly the guitars are strummed, like a cold, dead hand tapping time on your shoulder as you listen. Is it possible for a record to want to kill you ‘soon as look at you?
The speed with which Jay Reatard came out with new material until now seemed to be at the expense sound quality. On Watch me Fall, this is no issue. You’re listening to the guy play in surround sound. He’s separated so many layers of instrumentation and orchestrated them into each song that, while you’re still getting knocked to the ground with too-hot guitars and yelping vox, it’s happening from all sides by a million sweaty, angry Jay Reatards- and some of them with a nearly sixties pop sensibility, albeit a thanatoid, undead zombie hippie pop sensibility, like a band out of a Pynchon novel. This is a Jay Reatard record, and it’s also pretty and quiet in places. This is probably what the Paranoids or the Boards would have sounded like
So, here’s the disclaimer.
I’m behind on my Jay Reatard news. It’s dismaying to find out after I’ve gotten myself all excited to hype an album that dude gets all fucked up and punches people at his shows. You can read about it at these music blogs.
As a huge fan of someone like Ted Leo, a guy with a pretty militantly humanist ethical streak, a guy who steps off the stage to break up fights in the audience, I feel ripped off. Jay Lindsey (Reatard’s nom de real) has made a record that sounds great and makes me want to recommend it to other people, but I am uncomfortable promoting his music. Stories of onstage violence like this tell me that creepy air of general, you wouldn’t call it disdain exactly- maybe human disregard, flavoring Reatard’s records seems to have documented expression.
This is Ted Leo breaking up a fight at one of his shows. This is an example of class:
Talent or even mere access to resources (which everyone with a computer has now) doesn’t equal entitlement. This attitude, seemingly held by a lot of acts today, disturbs me. The cold, vacant stare of guarded antipathy so many bands put on (or is that just folks in front of a camera trying to keep it together as they suffer from paranoid reactions to awful hangovers?) has an inhuman feel. It’s the sign of folks taking themselves too seriously. Does no one smile except calculatingly anymore? Can no one relate to anything other than their own image?
What can I say? Even if the NY Times’ keen ear to the street (please hear my sarcasm?) fashion beat reporters are declaring the guy safe as milk, I feel pretty weird about this album.