[In the Red; 2006]
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I want to get a couple of things out of the way right off the bat.
I’m not going to try and pretend that I knew the man Jimmy Lee Lindsey, Jr., or more appropriately, Jay Reatard. Yes, it’s pronounced just like you would think. This is not a eulogy. I am in no way qualified for that.
I’m going to do my best to avoid the whole lot of sentimental bullshit that comes along with the death of a musician before his prime. Jay wouldn’t have wanted it that way. I don’t think, anyway (remember, I didn’t know him). Sure, hearing “Death Is Forming” followed by “Oh It’s Such A Shame” might be a bit more poignant now than it once was, but projecting the he-was-a-troubled-soul spiel on this music is really doing it a disservice. Jay Reatard called himself Jay Reatard. He posed in his underwear, covered in fake blood for the cover of his debut album. I like to think he was in on it, and I don’t think an in-depth analysis of the guy’s lyrics is going to bear any real fruit—this isn’t In Utero‘s Second Look, after all. I don’t mean to slight Jay’s artistry in any way, but there’s definitely a groan factor within the insanity and it just adds to the fun anyhow, so it’s all well and good. But let’s cut the shit:
Blood Visions is one of the best pop albums I’ve ever heard.
Right, right–it’s punk, I know. But I use the word “pop” for a reason. Behind everything that makes up the Jay Reatard mythos—frantic rhythms, unholy guitar squall, fights with audience members, throat-shredding vocals, botched stage dives, completely in-the-red sonics, the Flying V, and on and on—there exists an absurdly immaculate craft in the music under his name. Blood Visions is not something Jay slammed out in his bedroom in an hour. It’s something that was assembled with as much careful thought as reckless abandon, its precision somehow outmatched by its ferocity. Each track explodes with such a violent intensity that it would be easy to lose track of the songs while ducking for cover, were the songs not so completely off-the-charts incredible. (Note: don’t mind if I throw objectivity completely into the wind here, please. There’s a kind of passion that exists between a person and a record they love—I threw my critic hat in the garbage a couple paragraphs ago.)
Yes, these songs—to list how many of them are truly special would be no different than just instructing you to go look at the track listing. Hooks are too many to count. Reatard’s understanding of song craft, his sense of economy in knowing exactly what needs to go where and for how long, is what puts Blood Visions on another plane. More than half of these songs don’t go on for longer than 2 minutes, and they needn’t. 0:54 is exactly enough time for “Greed, Money, Useless Children” to stick; “Death is Forming” feels monumental while only lasting for 2:05; “Not A Substitute” is enormously anthemic and affecting in it’s 1:05 run time. I’m trying to liken the impression this record leaves to that of the afterimage effect from staring into a bright light, but I can’t find a way to put it as eloquently as I’d like. You’ll just have to excuse the awful, half-baked metaphor.
Highlights? The level of consistency over the course of these 15 tracks is astounding, but there’s one moment on this record that I feel its my duty here to pinpoint. Smack in the middle of the proceedings is aforementioned “Oh It’s Such A Shame.” It stomps around with angry riffs that give way to a near-breezy chorus and back again for a minute and a half—and then a shift. What happens at 1:19 of this track is something that I’m having quite a bit of trouble translating into words. Layers of sound pile on top of each other with an escalating sense of urgency, matched with an unrelenting rhythmic thrust toward some kind of inevitable oblivion. It is harsh and beautiful, and it ends before you’re ready, just as its burning its brightest.
I heard Blood Visions for the first time during the summer of 2007. It was a special discovery at the time, and I have since been delighted to watch Jay Reatard transcend obscurity and permeate public consciousness in ways I wouldn’t have imagined 3 years ago. The news of his death came to me in the midst of a trip to McDonald’s with a buddy of mine a week and a half ago; as we pulled out onto the street, he turned to me and said “Hey, did you hear Jay Reatard died? You like him, don’t you?” This guy’s favorite band is Guster. Here’s hoping Jay’s legacy will continue to grow in the years beyond his death… I really ought to burn my friend a copy of Blood Visions.