I wanted to start this article with something along the lines of “I couldn’t put my finger on why I love this record” but that would be disingenuous both to you, the reader, and to me, the author. Not only do I love this record, I outright adore it. Thanks to perhaps one too many of my obsessive repeat listens, every single crusty spider digit of mine has managed to slide itself into every single audial orifice this beaut could provide, unlocking the universe and the inner-most workings of my mind with each spin. And what would prevent me from wanting to do that when the whole damn thing is less than 30 minutes? It’s impossible to get enough of Mr. Reatard in that amount of time! So, if there’s anything to criticize about this masterwork, it’s that. Whatever the case, that’s truly the only negative I (Milo Paul) could trick myself into providing you regarding Blood Visions, but maybe Trashcan Sam can do me one (or plenty) better.
1. Blood Visions
Milo: A proper intro track with the legendary Reatard twist. Not surprisingly, it’s a great summary of what the remainder of Blood Visions will be like in terms of construction; as a result, I’m thankful that it was the first song of Jay’s I’d ever heard. A simple rimshot beat slapping by for 10 seconds is followed by what I could only call a masterful abuse of the same cheap recording styles that made the first Ramones record so great. The instrumentation is literally chopped and sorted with individual parts treated as if they were MIDIS on a demo rather than the genuine product. Chainsaw guitar will gurgle out the left speaker for one chord and then brighten with a slide up the neck screaming two additional chords out the right speaker, the vocals matched specifically to this transition in a semi call-and-response manner. The lead work here acts as a series of spurts forcing the head to quake in on itself out excitement, followed by recovering one’s posture so swiftly that a listener may start expressing symptoms of whiplash if they aren’t too careful.
Trashcan Sam: For as zany and wild and hectic as Milo claims this song to be, it’s structured rather plainly. In fact, it’s structured so plainly that “Blood Visions” quickly becomes a bore than a chore to listen to on the album literally titled after it. I don’t believe that bodes well for what’s to come, especially with lyrics like these (Seriously, it’s as if he recorded “Oh It’s Such A Shame” and recorded this song as an afterthought based entirely around his starting a line with “Oh”). You can deconstruct guitar pop like everyone else, Jay… or you could do something interesting.
2. Greed, Money, Useless Children
Milo: Quite similar to “Blood Visions” in terms of structure and sonic landscaping but with a deliciously Minutemen’s “Corona” vibe for the chorus (at least to my ears). Simplicity can be a good thing and Jay once again works that in his favor here. Transforming what would otherwise be bland filler in other performers’ hands into adrenaline-centric fanaticism, “Greed, Money, Useless Children” may be the weakest song on Blood Visions by my own admission but it still packs some serious power.
Trashcan Sam: “Adrenaline-centric fanaticism”? Don’t you mean a fuzzed-out circus performance with an anti-natalist clown at its center? Now normally I would fawn over that concept but, alas, we’re working with Jay Reatard here. This baby carries all of “Blood Vision”’s sins and then some, so it’s not getting any respect from me.
3. It’s So Easy
Milo: Expanding on the first two songs’ formulas, “It’s So Easy” has some fine guitar coursing through it. A moment with surprisingly cutthroat reverb for dissonant lead parts leaks into a droning bass ballooning into a slow and tense rise with rimshots keeping on with the same anxious clatter set as the norm by the previous two songs. It’s during these moments that you can really feel a finger on a gun, about to shoot. Intense but straightforward, “It’s So Easy” kicks butt. As a plus, Jay’s misanthropy returns once again as a valuable part of the cynical lyrical concoction he’s been cooking up so far on the album. Similarly straightforward, we are fed the honest tart of someone living the good life because he’s abandoned any and all care about the world around him. Think Buddha but if he was in the waning phase of a nervous breakdown.
Wait, that’s just Jay Reatard.
Trashcan Sam: The climax starts out good enough! Meaning, it’s good for about a second. Then it becomes sapped of all energy despite it not getting any slower or any less intense. It’s weird how setting a dissonance and distortion standard circles around and snags a fella, huh?
4. My Shadow
Milo: “My Shadow” definitely lands onto my list of songs that are religious experiences. I almost don’t know what else to say.
The song is a masterpiece of raw, primal, and screaming distortion. At points, the guitar even ascends distortion and roars like corrosive, god-forbidden rage incarnant. Every ounce of spite and spit and disarray and damage a human being could ever suffer through manages to make its presence known in the worn ear etched by Jay’s magnum opus, and you simply could not tell me otherwise. Your shadow is a thing inherent to you, it’s physics, it’s of light stretching and warping itself, but it also can take a mystical shape were one to throw themselves into old legends. To divorce yourself from your one constant, the only thing that always follows, is to simply lose yourself.
“My Shadow” is the sound of a man who has lost himself through his inability to recognize his own shadow. Still, he’s stuck with it. The man is forcing us into, for lack of a better word, the nightmare that is his life— we are bearing witness to someone kicking and screaming through the throes of whatever he is going through, unable to untangle himself, and losing his sense of self as a result. There’s beauty to the ugliness of his pain, as it is something we all believe ourselves to have experienced. To that end. “My Shadow” is a study of our human condition and perhaps, when you listen to it again, you’ll be back at a point in your life where you’re stuck, too. Maybe you’ll find the reality that replaced itself with the imposter you feel yourself to be somewhere in that static, but it’s always too dark, its trees are too sharp, and its clouds are jagged.
And still, you’ll find yourself coming back to visit time and time again, I promise you.
Trashcan Sam: What a bland chorus. All this distorted guitar and Jay decides to let it all go to waste in favor of 5/10 fuzz and screaming the same thing over and over. It’s good, but it could’ve been great.
5. My Family
Milo: Friends, you’re about to discover a pattern with me and that pattern is a lot of the songs on this album are religious experiences for me. Like, a tingly, goosebump-covered, tear-inducing experience— “My Family” is no exception. In fact, as much as I love the previous song, this oft-ignored minute-and-a-halfer is actually my favorite-ever Jay Reatard song. This is almost definitely a result of my own personal trauma regarding my family and what I’ve been through with them, but I tell you with all possible sincerity that I don’t care if that’s true. No song has better captured the loss and despair I have felt with my blood kin than this one, and that’s just the truth.
There’s something to that hyper-reverbed twang of the guitar that sounds like a kind of warped heaven’s bell or chime, ringing out in time with the distress of the lyrics. There’s regret, there’s love, but there’s a noticeable lack of Jay’s anger, too. Perhaps its because the horror at the centerstage of the song wasn’t his doing, maybe it’s something he saw and experienced. We don’t know. And, with the drumsticks hitting like a metronome, we are lead to the loudest part out of all this at the end. The return of that twang accompanied with the rising amp feedback and the swift clip-clap of repeat hi-hat hitting all come together in the sonic variant of a broken family portrait, standing above of it and seeing visions of a destroyed world. All that while, you repeat to yourself: “My Family, they never knew”. And, for what is left over, they never will know, either.
I originally blew off this song because ¾ of it seemed goofy, the wheezing Benny Hill-ness of the distorted guitar, and whatnot. And yet, that coupled with the twang is later what had me return to it. I realized these elements were more like guitar effigies to innocence in a song that’s all about loss of innocence and, suddenly, I likely became #1 fan of “My Family”.
I guess I need to talk to my therapist more.
Trashcan Sam: Therapists have therapists? What am I paying you for?!
6. Death Is Forming
Milo: And WHOOSH! We are now miles away from family trauma territory!
Trashcan Sam: Huzzah?
Milo: Huzzah, indeed. Here we return to more classic Jay in his continued pursuit to take guitar pop traditions and completely re-utilizing them in order to transform that genre of music completely. “Death Is Forming” is a particular example of this because all aspects of the song seem to adopt this strategy as well, whether it be in the confusing alignment of words in the chorus or in the neverending Chuck Berry squeal of the guitar over a grungy backdrop that better resembles a wall of sound over a literal guitar solo. This is the kind of magic that the demon David Bowie from Labyrinth was talking about: JUMP, MAGIC, JUMP!
Trashcan Sam: You can’t tell me that the chorus isn’t a gimmick. Like, you just can’t. Really! My head just turns off once you do.
Milo: You’re just being a contrarian, Sam.
Trashcan Sam: I don’t know what else to say, my head reacted like this before the song even existed.
7. Oh It’s Such a Shame
Milo: This here is probably the sauciest song on Blood Visions. That verse guitar is just syrup thick. And that part that starts in the middle? A gosh darn mega-wave of thick, ghostly super-syrup coming to knock down your door. Here’s the needle-man to summarize:
Trashcan Sam: I’ll give it to you this time, Paul. This is some saucy stuff.
8. Not a Substitute
Milo: People often say the third entry of a series tends to be the worst but, if you compare “Not a Substitute” to its compatriots “Blood Visions” and “Greed, Money, Useless Children”, I’d say an argument can be made that this third entry genuinely surpasses what its forerunners started. The lyrics are vastly more meaningful (even though that wasn’t hard, given how the other two are written) and honestly? I really dig simple but heart-wrenching stuff. Some people can never be replaced, some experiences can never be re-experienced, but even with these concepts cluttering up the hesitant first half, the second half manages to rise up to the occasion and spring free from that drudgery to live in the now (even if the now for Jay was missing someone. Hey, we all have our thing).
Trashcan Sam: “Blood Visions” has violence, “Greed, Money, Useless Children” had anti-natalism, and “Not a Substitute” is sentimentality over someone. Okay, I’m binning “Not a Substitute” and running off with the other two.
Milo: This one has a similar message tagged to it that hits home much like “My Family” so, even though I don’t prefer it, “Nightmares” has a special place in my heart. The distortion is somehow focused, especially in between verses and in the chorus, and the image I derive from them is a montage of myself (or you) traveling the world on a boat. Think as if the guitar licks are the waves beating the boat, the percussion acting as the sound of your nerves braving this weather. All of this exists as hardships without an end but, unlike “My Shadow” or “My Family, both songs that simply state the existence of these pains, the very ability to stand against it all is something to take pride in according to the ethos of “Nightmares”. The song seems far more interested in turning that trauma into a story of progression, or even into an adventure. So keep screaming that you’ll keep searching for it (whatever it is) through the storm. Keep howling.
Trashcan Sam: Mush, it’s mush. I want more murder, not this fancy “feeling” crap.
10. I See You Standing There
Milo: Paranoid creep Jay Reatard is back. After having all of these emotions, this song just seems tired.
Trashcan Sam: You’ve obviously never heard of versatility, Milo Paul! Listen to that instrumentation! The drums stopping and starting, the guitar repeating chords over and over to match the lyrics. It’s like everything you love about “Blood Visions” but this time about someone—
Milo: Being a creep? Sam, I go listen to The Cramps if I want that from my garage punk, not Jay Reatard.
11. We Who Wait
Milo: The Adverts are a dope band and “We Who Wait” is therefore a dope song but honestly? Jay just does it better. Like, take everything great about the original, then just imagine if it was better. That’s this. Sorta makes me wish that Jay did as many covers as Ty Segall does before he passed away.
Trashcan Sam: Gary Gilmore’s Eyes is an overrated song! There, I said it. Wait, we’re still doing Jay Reatard? Really? I’m getting so bored now!
12. Fading All Away
Milo: Well, it’s going to be me for the rest of this. With Sam’s temperament, no wonder we don’t do these as much anymore.
“Nightmare” has a twin, except the twin takes the adventure and feeds it through a “Blood Visions” lens. Actually no, that’s not quite right… Maybe “Up The Wolves” by Mountain Goats captures this mood better, just in a more subtle way. Yeah, that sounds accurate.
The garage-y drumbeat is delicious and the bass almost pounds itself into a protrusion defacing the guitar’s presence. I noted these two aspects first because this is probably the one song on Blood Visions that gives all of the instruments an equal playing field rather than just having the guitar do its thing and the rhythm sections devoting themselves to demoted add-on aesthetics. In that sense, “Fading All Away” could be described as the point this album got closest to be purely garage punk, but no cigar! This is Jay Reatard! Of course, he somehow managed to turn what sounds like a very real threat into a weirdly beautiful, sentimental love affair between fuzz and emotions. Because of that, I’d say this should be the song you show your friends when getting them into Jay. They won’t be prepared for what’s to come otherwise.
13. Turning Blue
MILO: I’M COMING TO YOU FROM MY REVIEW OF “TURNING BLUE” TO TELL YOU THAT THIS SONG IS REALLY, REALLY LOUD. LIKE, SUPER LOUD. IT’S REALLY GOOD BUT PLEASE GOD, FOR ALL THAT IS RIGHTEOUS AND HOLY ABOUT THE HUMAN EAR, TURN DOWN YOUR SPEAKERS! PLEASE?! THANK YOU?!
14. Puppet Man
Milo: Yeah, that’s right. This song is about Oscar the Grouch. I’m not kidding, go listen to it. There really isn’t any other way I could sell this to you, the song itself is pretty damn good, but it’s about OSCAR. THE. GROUCH. Go listen, now.
15. Waiting for Something
Milo: And here we come to the last song on Blood Visions and, appropriately enough, it’s another religious experience song. This song has everything that came before it and all of that sweet, sweet Jay Reatard has been homogenized into the perfect explosive finale. There’s…
The “Blood Visions” MIDI treatment
“Greed, Money, Useless Children” repetition
“It’s So Easy”’s finger on the gun
“My Shadow”-level of raw, primal, and screaming distortion
“My Family”-level of straight-up biblical lead guitar
“Death Is Forming” jumpiness
All “Oh It’s Such A Shame” kinds of saucy
“Not a Substitute”’s meaningful but simple lyricism
a “Nightmare”-esque sense of adventure
“I See You Standing There”’s paranoia (perhaps unfortunately)
“We Who Wait”’s sense that Jay could do it better than anyone
“Fading All Away”’s instrument equality
“TURNING BLUE”’s LOUDNESS
“Puppet Man”’s sense of being pretty damn good
It was a blast (no pun intended) to revisit this album and give you all my thoughts on it. Listening to Jay Reatard completely change my world and I honestly don’t know who I’d be if I discover him back when I was really starting to get stuck in my nihilism. It’s an absurd world, and sometimes you gotta show it your teeth.
I hope this cover of “Fading All Away” succeeds at even slightly resembling the way Jay gnashed his teeth at his own demise, but that’s up to you.