On the cover of Matador Singles ’08 (his second singles comp of the year, after Singles 06-07, released in the summer via In the Red), Jay Reatard is swimming in a bathtub full of his records. The metaphor isn’t tough to decipher: The guy puts out music by the tub-full, single after single with seemingly no concern for self-editing or vinyl-pressing fees. But the cover could offer another explanation, too, that of Reatard being bogged down by his past work and by fans wanting more of the punk blasts they’ve grown accustomed to. Matador Singles ’08 seems like Reatard’s way of shaking off his past before he moves on to the full-length he’s promising for next year.
That latter reading seems more likely over the course of the 13-track, 34-minute compilation. The album opens with “See/Saw,” which sounds like a more melodic version of his work on 2006’s Blood Visions, and the closer, "I’m Watching You,” is a ballad that, beyond Reatard’s nasal vocals, bears almost no resemblance to the opener. The album is completely different from Singles 06-07, which compiled a lot of alternate versions from Blood Visions — which sounded like the the Buzzcocks high on PCP, was made without proper recording equipment and is the only full-length released under the Jay Reatard moniker. (He was born Jay Lindsey and has put out records under a few different names, including the Reatards, which he was originally the only member of.)
That being said, Matador Singles ’08 may be Reatard’s most complete album-length accomplishment to date. It eschews the “same song over and over” criticism that’s been lobbed at Reatard by people only familiar with his latest works. (When I saw him open for the Black Keys in Minneapolis this spring, one particularly drunk guy kept yelling “Same song!” during every break. I think the guy was wearing a Yes T-shirt.) It jumps moods in way that didn’t seem possible for Reatard in the past.
Matador Singles ’08 includes all of the Reatard singles Matador has released since April, sans the cover of Deerhunter’s “Oh It’s Such a Shame,” which showed up on the fifth single, and it adds a bonus track, the aforementioned “I’m Watching You." The first six songs sound pretty similar: poppier constructs, windmill drums, and claustrophobic guitars. “An Ugly Death” is the first-half highlight — the layered guitars and deft drumming put the song in rickety motion before setting up a Chuck Berry-esque solo. “Fluorescent Grey” is the half-time show. It somehow is able to out-drone and out-creep the Deerhunter original, and that band knows a bit about droning and general creepiness.
The comp’s second half finally cements a notion that’s been floating for a while: Reatard’s real compadres aren’t the punk forefathers of the 1970s but the like-minded subversive garage thieves like the Black Lips. “No Time” is a hazy-eyed look at aging, “Trapped Here” a slow-burning tale of kidnap and murder, and “You Were Sleeping” a drony psychedelic voyage through sleep — a more restrained feel from a guy who used to sing sub-two-minute songs about killing people.
In an interview with Pitchfork TV, Reatard talked about how choosing to perform under the Jay Reatard name (and under a band name) allowed him to make albums that sound however the hell he feels like, but as Jay Reatard, he’s grown to the point where people have associated him with a certain sound and aesthetic. With Matador Singles ’08, he both perfects and moves on from that sound, essentially doing exactly what is and what isn’t expected from him, ready make the next step toward whatever sound catches his fancy next.