Memphis native Jay Reatard (Jay Lindsey) has been making a name for himself since the late 90s, in bands like The Reatards and Lost Sounds, mixing up garage rock and synth punk. Recently signed to Matador Records under his own name, his output with them to date has been a succession of hit and run 7″ singles, each brimming with punk fuzz and lo-fi brilliance.
Reatard is a man who seems to savour the power of the 45, having already released around 30 already on a multitude of different small labels, of which Matador Singles ’08 is his second such compilation (the first being last years Singles 06-07). All six singles appear here in order of release, from “See-Saw” through to the impossible-to-find “No Time”. All are Reatard originals, with the exception of a split single with Atlanta’s Deerhunter, where they took turns covering each others songs.
All thirteen tracks are spritely lo-fi beasts, crackling electric guitars battle against keyboard riffs and acoustic strums. “See-Saw” sounds like Bug-era Dinosaur Jr without the manic breakdowns, Reatard calling out “she creeps me out/she crept me in again” in some twisted love/hate scene. “Always Wanting More” apes the Buzzcocks school of melodic punk – short, sharp riffs and a catchy, repetitive chorus. For a band who’ve gone as far as covering The Go-Between’s “Don’t Let Him Come Back”, Retard’s influences appear to extend beyond the norm, displaying a distinctly Antipodean flavour. Much of the material here could easily fit in with the rest of the irreverent pop acts on New Zealand’s Flying Nun label.
Live their music is very much in the Ramones style of playing, with nary a pause for breath and often minus the nuances that you find on the recordings – the acoustic/keyboard fun of “An Ugly Death” sounds entirely unlike what you’d come to expect from them. On stage they’re a head down, foot the fuzz pedal garage band, hair-swinging and rocking out to their own music. Throw a cheap keyboard into the mix and those snotty, angry songs suddenly display an unexpected charm of their own.
Reatard’s take on Deerhunter’s “Flourescent Grey” becomes the collections centrepiece, a divine, droning, Syd Barrett slice of psychedelic pop. Fifth single “Trapped Here” falls down in comparison to the previous four singles, lacking in the pop hooks and chorus department. Its speed-punk b-sides “Hiding In a Hole” and “DOA” fare much better. Final single “No Time” is a lo-fi acoustic lament a-la Guided By Voices. Added to the collection in absence of Deerhunter’s cover of “Oh It’s Such a Shame”, you get a new song in the threatening “I’m Watching You” with it’s charming singalong putdown “You see to me you always were a cunt/You see to me you never meant that much”. Lovely stuff.
As much as I was willing to write off Reatard and his odd-looking bandmates as tuneless noise-makers, this singles collection works in his favour, highlighting his off-kilter brilliance, and talent for writing careering pop gems that compiled together sound more a proper album than a collection of disparate releases. Reatard’s proliferate ability may in time cheapen his output, but for right now enjoy it while it’s hot.