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Jay Reatard - Singles 06-07

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Artist: Jay Reatard

Album: Singles 06-07

Label: In the Red

Review date: Jul. 2, 2008

Now that the era of the Compact Disc is behind us, it's easier to see how the medium shaped the message. Right from the start, it was clear that with the longer running time and lack of a second side, CDs changed the sequencing of albums. By the mid-'90s, new releases came front loaded with the strong tracks, and long stretches of silence hid addendum crap. A less obvious consequence was that CDs seemed to put a drag on the prolific artist. Low-level bands had to struggle meet the cost to recording and pressing digitally. Signed acts seemed compelled to come up with at least 50 minutes of music. Both pressures made it common for active artists to go years between releases. Even as digital recording got cheaper, and CD burners rendered the laser-guided gold discs as disposable as supermarket cassettes, too many albums were envisioned as staging grounds for 30-month promotion efforts. Too many acts felt the obligation to produce a six-hit legacy-makers along the lines of Straight Outta Compton or Appetite for Destruction or Nevermind.

And so the practice of creating STUPID POP MUSIC came to resemble a military campaigns: indie guerrilla insurrections, crossover chart invasions, or don't-call-it-a-comeback alliances filled with guest appearances. At the height of all this, Robert Pollard was deemed some sort of savant for the prodigious output of Guided By Voices. Yet, for most of the rock era, it wasn't unusual for an act to release 30 songs a year. From The Beatles and James Brown through to The Smiths and Husker Du, when an act got momentum, they'd start dropping new stuff every few months. It looked easy, because they treated record-making like a stream of thought, not a cause worthy of a memorial.

For us at the receiving end, false reverence has been rectified by the mp3, spur-of-the-moment downloads and the diminishing value of the used CD. Jay Reatard is one of the folks who's doing his part on the supply end. He may not end up a household name (there's still a chance), but he's on a course to be a lasting cult hero. Singles 06-07's high points are as giddy and satisfying as Blood Visions, his faultless album released right in the middle of the period covered here. ... and both releases cover less than about half of his output during that two-year span. There's also the collaborations with the Terror Visions, Destruction Unit and Final Solutions. And his work as a producer. And his touring that's fostered other Tennesseans like Cheap Time, the Barbaras and Boston Chinks, bands who sound just as, um, reatarded.

Terror, blood and destruction decorate the packaging of his music, but what comes out of the speakers is disarmingly sweet. Sure it's loud, fast and snotty. But the loud part is fizzy guitars and chirpy synthesizers. The fast is more pogo-stick than knuckle-sandwich. The snot is what sets him apart - Singles has two songs in a row built around the word "useless," two songs about breaking stuff, two songs about killing a lover, and at least half a dozen about freaking out or feeling nothing at all. That mayhem creates a portrait of vulnerability, and what emerges is a guy overwhelmed, a bundle of nerves who finds composure solving the tricks created in the Phil Spector and Barry Gordy song factories.

His style on these singles is a lot more easy-going than his other projects. Some of these are alternate versions of Blood Visions numbers, a shade slower and less jagged. The hopping circus organ on "Another Person" and the choir of voices on the refrain of "Hammer I Miss You" are total confection. "All Over Again" builds a wall of sound out of layered acoustic guitars and a tom-tom drum corps. Jay's production style - pushing the volume of each instrument until it nearly breaks apart - sounds better digitized than cut to vinyl. Sonically, this is a improvement on the avalanche of plastic it's drawn from.

What can't be improved on is the avalanche as a working method. Quantity brings out a quality you can't get any other way. The product of a manic disorder, the mania in this music is contagious. Jay is on one of those runs right now, 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. 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.

By Ben Donnelly

Other Reviews of Jay Reatard

Blood Visions

Matador Singles ’08

Watch Me Fall

Read More

View all articles by Ben Donnelly

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