[26 March 2009]
It’s somehow apropos that Jeremy Jay has released his third record directly after the spring equinox. Slow Dance is a stylized musical take on winter, with the spacey emphasis sounding more like the memory of it than the actual season itself. There’s a chill here, but also the hint of flowers about to burst from the ground.
Jeremy Jay is a man out of step. His world is the 1980s, all minimal new wave and instrumentation that sounds like it’s coming from the far end of a tunnel. Jay does this well. Slow Dance is a winning collection of songs, calling to mind Stephin Merritt minus about 20 recording tracks or Sparks in a reflective groove. He also possesses an innocence that is carried well. There aren’t a whole lot of performers who can successfully sing the line, “Giddy-up, horsey, giddy-up”, without coming across coy at best or a fool at worst. Well, coyness is certainly a factor but weariness accompanies it for a positive spin.
What Slow Dance evokes most of all is a bedroom of dreams. Not sex, mind you, but the American concept of the teenager/young adult bedroom that consists of a collection of valued personal items (junk to others), the privacy to imagine and obsess about the future (even if that future is only the plans for the evening), and a shelf of journals and scrapbooks to pore through. What Jay excels at within this space is portraying the searching of a certain age without delving into schmaltz and self-obsession. Unlike a young Conor Oberst, Jeremy Jay pares his lyrics down to the least bit he can offer. The listener can then pin her own dreams and reminiscences onto them. “Slow Dance 2” offers only “Slow dance / Won’t you slow dance with me?” for words.
The mood is in the music that sounds like a determination for attention. One of the most compelling songs is “Breaking the Ice”, calling to mind an early Pet Shop Boys demo. As that group found success in combining mellow dance beats with striking images, so too does Jay get the body swaying while singing about a cold winter walk, trying to know someone through a moment spent drawing on a block of ice. It ends with the acknowledgment, “I should have told you / That I love you”.
At only a half-hour, Slow Dance is a show of artistic restraint. It ends on an interesting note, with “Where Could We Go Tonight?” re-imagining the Pixies as a pre-dawn club band, making music to come down to. It’s this slight paring up in sound that allows the idea of Jeremy Jay moving out of the bedroom and into the world, creating something akin to LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver or, maybe closer to Jay’s heart, ABC’s The Lexicon of Love. But that’s for the future. Right now, Jeremy Jay offers a frosty, synth-driven poem of longing. The flowers may be in bloom soon, but until then we should remember the dead of winter that juxtaposes why they are so important to us to begin with.