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Jay Reatard - Blood Visions

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Artist: Jay Reatard

Album: Blood Visions

Label: In the Red

Review date: Feb. 22, 2007

Solo debuts aren’t supposed to be this good. Jay Reatard has been kicking around Memphis since a teen, starting in the 1990s with the dirty-word punk of The Reatards, and lately in the thrashy synth-centered Lost Sounds. The brilliant Blood Visions falls somewhere in between - rambunctious and roaring, jerking nervously all the way. Tons of highlights here – tons of them – hitting on just about every style that's had the word "punk" thrown at it as an epithet. It adds up sounding closest to the not-quite-new-wave rock that bounced between ambitious indies and majors around 1980; it resembles the twisted naiveté of the era, before bands realized that building a hook around "I will kill you" was going to keep them off the airwaves.

Jay, of course, knows better. Naiveté went out with the Carter re-nomination, and somewhere along the way delusions of grandeur gave way to festivals of failure. Hence, he's got no problem building a hook around "I will kill you." He delivers it nonchalantly, in a stiff diction that sounds like an American imitating a Brit, or vice versa. Later, in robot cadence, he sings "Minus puppet man / in a garbage can / drinking piss from a jar." He's got no expectations. Kids in bands like the Rezillos or the Weirdos riffed on the uncharted territory of Patti or the Pistols; career suicide was the furthest thing from their minds. Twenty-five years later, Jay puts himself on the cover with blood dripping off his love handles. Getting stocked at the department store isn't a consideration.

But while drinking piss is certifiably "punk," Jay, knowingly or not, concocted a surprisingly intricate power pop masterpiece. That genre is typically more polished and chummy, but it's also burdened by those concessions. There's a neurotic streak through this record that gives it weight, an impatience that lends it drive.

Jay laid down tracks for the Reigning Sound's Too Much Guitar and Blood Visions has the same captivatingly muddy quality. Tracks start buzzing before a note is played; the two-note and four-chord riffs layer and intensify and burst into refrains. The plain chant of "I'll keep searching for you" during "Nightmares" is backed by acoustic strumming that gives way to a rising electric lead. Timeless stuff, and in double-time no less. Pick apart the track "My Shadow" and you'll identify five different sections. These songs are so packed with dynamic changes that they completely overcome the wet-cardboard veneer.

The secret ingredient here is Brian Eno. On the surface, there's not much resemblance to the Eno catalog (maybe "Blank Frank," maybe "Third Uncle"). But follow Jay's trail on the web, and he keeps name-checking the man. Eno's "I'm not a musician" philosophy was certainly on the minds of the early punks, and his ideas percolate behind the simple figures at the roots of these songs - in the allergy to emotion, the idea that any sort of line can by made into a hook. Clumsy can be catchy if you repeat the shit out of it, if you pair it with something familiar.

Jay has spent years doing exactly that, as both an amateur frontman and an expert behind the boards. This time he's found the vitality he's been chasing all those years. Where past bands struggled to hold songs together, he drops into the groove effortlessly, jittering through Blood Visions' 15 tracks without a clunker. Snarky, snarling and soaring, this kind of derangement rarely sounds so sweet.

By Ben Donnelly

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