Jay Reatard is an interesting character. His image and reputation is one of a non sophisticated garage rocker, thrashing out punk ditties on a flying v. This perception is not a million miles from the truth but going from his output in 2008 it appears that there is more happening musically than many (myself included) gave him credit for.
Matador Singles ’08 gathers the releases from the last 12 months and it certainly works as a cohesive record. In fact it could be one of the highlights of the year. As artists progress through their careers there is the temptation and a particular fate in using increased recording budgets. A subsequent dulling of the initial spirit and spark that the musician first appeared with occurs. Reatard has gone against the grain in this sense and has undergone a type of regression. His sound and approach has become more lo-fi and the tunes have been pared back to the essence of rhythm, attitude and hook. He has stripped back the songs to their skeleton with the barest amount of muscle required to function, they are finely tuned pieces of music.
Much has been said of the New Zealand influence (specifically those bands on the Flying Nun label) on his current writing and that is without doubt apparent in a number of forms. Melodically he takes from the Tall Dwarfs and The Clean and sonically he has taken on the aesthetics of Chris Knox (also of Tall Dwarfs) with thin guitar sounds and homemade rhythm tracks comprised of hand claps and other rudimentary beats. ‘You Mean Nothing To Me’ is a prime example of this, especially with its primitive organ riff a la The Clean. It all works magically as he combines these influences with an American garage and British punk attitude. British acts such as the Only Ones and the Buzzcocks are immediately apparent in Reatard’s vocal delivery.
Lyrically the record appears on the surface to be naive in its themes and thoughts but dig deeper and there are some great lines such as “You never meant that much to me, I always thought you were a cunt” on ‘I’m Watching You’. Coupled with the melodies that accompany the lyrics, these base and heartless words take on a much more sentimental feeling.
Other new styles and influences appear through the album. ‘Fluorescent Grey’ has touches of psychedelia to it with the droning cyclical repetition of the music and the lyrics, while ‘You Were Sleeping’ with its Chills meets Brian Jonestown Massacre feel, is all warm and homepsun strumming.
Comments from Reatard suggest that his next record will feature more harmonies and a wider range of instruments, taking him further from the garage and out into the world. If you like your music raw and honest, spiky and to the point with quickfire lines and catchy melodies then Reatard is your man. He brings back a sense of the simple pleasures of music, in a world where bigger is too often thought to mean better.