Tracing the legacy of punk king Jay Reatard, 10 years on from his death
13.02.2020

Tracing the legacy of punk king Jay Reatard, 10 years on from his death

Words by James Lynch

Dive head first into these three albums to commemorate the legend.

January just marked ten years since the death of Memphis punk-rocker Jay Reatard. To celebrate his legacy, we’ve looked back at his incredible career through three defining albums.

Teenage Hate – Reatards

A few years before Teenage Hate was released, Jay caught the attention of Eric Friedl of Goner Records by sending the label a demo tape of his first attempts at songs. Friedl described it as “a kid bashing in his bathroom with buckets and a guitar” a sprawl of garage-rock that was primitive, yet packed with potential. Friedl recalls his thinking – “I’m gonna put this out, this will probably be the only time we hear from this kid, this is great, I don’t care if he becomes an accountant”.

He soon realised how wrong he was as a year or so later, Goner released Jay’s first full length album. On Teenage Hate, all the restless energy and chaos that would define Jay’s later work can be heard. It’s an 18 track sprint through garage, punk, power-pop, and even southern-rock; it serves as a thrilling uncovering of the scope of this creative madman.

Lost Sounds – Lost Sounds

Referred to as Jay’s “lost legacy” by Pitchfork, Lost Sounds was one of his longest running projects. Lost Sounds played together for six years, which is a lifetime considering Jay’s breakneck work rate. While their fourth and final album might not be the band’s ultimate statement, it does encompass everything that made the project so powerful.

Mixing brutal hardcore moments with synth-punk irreverence and pop-smarts, Lost Sounds perfectly marries Jay’s untapped creativity with his destructive tendencies. That’s not to downplay the role of co-songwriter Alicja Trout either – the competition between the two musicians forced Jay to test boundaries and wander into more innovative territory, her influence seemingly dictating where Jay would take his own music next. As Pitchfork write, “Trout was hardly the muse, hers was the A-game he was trying to beat”. It was this band’s end that saw Jay channel any leftover energy and frustration into his breakthrough solo album Blood Visions.

Watch Me Fall – Jay Reatard

While Blood Visions may be Jay’s definitive work, his second and final solo record Watch Me Fall is a profoundly apt closing statement. On this album, Jay trades punk chaos in favour of the melody and charm of Flying Nun jangle-pop or ‘60s garage, without compromising the thrill and urgency of his earlier work. It’s a tricky album to leave us with though – the transition to a more mellow sound opened plenty of new doors which would be tragically shut a year later, halting a career that ended well before its time.