Jeremy Jay Slow Dance

[K; 2009]

Styles:  pop
Others:  early-Bowie

Pop music tends to sound like summer. Even if the underlying feeling is wintry, most pop music attempts to transform this coldness into warmth – it turns the most devastating tragedy into a sunny celebration. Jeremy Jay's Slow Dance, on the other hand, doesn't try to conceal the fact that its pop-sensibilities exist in a world of never-ending winter. It’s a winter-night pop album that follows fragile, too-cool-to-care finger-snapping characters, who continuously move — sometimes on horseback and over moonbeams — but never permanently arrive anywhere on a winter night. The album is a road album that lacks a destination and celebrates this lacuna through the heroism of its restless characters. Jay’s Godardian sensibilities are no mystery for those who have kept up with the interviews, and this is clearly seen in the traces of movement that follow the characters as they push forward even after the closing notes of the last track. For, at the end of the album, Jay has cleverly re-articulated the problem from 2008’s A Place Where We Can Go. Slow Dance ends with a question – “Where could we go tonight?” And the only appropriate answer is: “Yeah.”

“We Were There” paints a portrait of the hero who, like some courageous conquistador, goes looking for new lands, for new places to be and to dance. The hero has some sort of special historical consciousness in that he or she is always there at the right time, and this special vision returns on the closing track when we discover that the one who plays the “noble guitar” possesses the power to “see through time.” And this is ironic since we’re left at the end wondering where to go. Despite this Beckettian existential dilemma, there don’t seem to be any limitations on where the characters can go. “In This Lonely Town” finds the gang together, hitting the town, following the beat and the floating notes as they walk, turning the streets into a dance floor.

But the next two songs, “Gallop” and “Canter Canter,” find our character(s) on the back of some sort of magical horse that soars over moonbeams and star streams, outruns monsters, and turns imagination into reality. The journey of the hero, we might think, continues the search for a place to go, even in dreams. Whether we are still in the dream, awake, or if imagination has actually become reality, we are now slow-dancing with someone “from another world.” “Yeah.” This otherworldly dancer temporarily stays in the love-warmed winter wonder world of ice-skates, hot chocolate, fireplaces, and blankets. Temporarily because the delicate ice that holds them soon breaks, returning the world back to its biting coldness. “Slow Dance 2” seems to be some sort of wish for a return to the joyfulness felt in “Slow Dance” when the strange dancer first made an appearance.

Finally, we are left with the question about where to go. The identity of the character(s) across tracks is ambiguous in such a way that the otherworldly dancer and the noble guitarist might be the same person, or the latter is a new character introduced who might, in some way, help to provide a new answer to the incessant, lurking, but always romantic question.

The recording perfectly reflects the aesthetic of the world Jay has imagined, and both Calvin Johnson and Bob Schwenkler deserve praise for accurately materializing Slow Dance’s wintry, yet robust landscape. The synth sounds like icicles and provides a Twin Peaks-like layer of haunted mysteriousness that glides alongside the characters as they fearlessly cruise the cold streets. The beat is conducive to finger-snap coolness, and one can easily picture our characters reenacting the Madison dance scene from Bande à Part, perhaps even with a cigarette placed in the direct center of their mouths, hitting a perfect Belmondo imitation. The guitar riffs are only out-sassed by Jay’s mystifyingly echoed, ghost-like vocals, as he flawlessly manages to hit each note -- each “yeah” -- with urgency and seduction. This is a sexy album. It’s Jay’s most impressive release so far, and one of the smartest indie-pop albums of recent years.

1. We Were There
2. In This Lonely Town
3. Gallop
4. Canter Canter
5. Slow Dance
6. Winter Wonder
7. Will You Dance With Me?
8. Breaking The Ice
9. Slow Dance 2
10. Where Could We Go Tonight

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