I like to imagine that the cover of Blood Visions is intended as dark homage to I Get Wet, Andrew WK’s 2001 treatise on the value of fist pumps and rough living. I Get Wet’s cover features WK bleeding but unbowed, chin raised in defiance, ready for the next party. Blood Visions’s sleeve depicts Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr, better known as Jay Reatard, as a man who has had enough. Emasculated and bloody in a pair of briefs, he stands barefoot with the posture and stare of the shell-shocked. The party’s long over, but the host isn’t done bleeding.
I think it has to be mentioned that the death of Jay Reatard forces post-2010 listens of Blood Visions to resonate with a more morbid frequency. Though, to be honest, Blood Visions doesn’t really need the help: death is all over this ***ing thing. Dead friends (“It’s So Easy”), murderous children (“My Family”), and even death corporeal (“Death is Forming”) all make appearances, all in the first half of the record. Hell of a start, Jay.
I’ll admit, during my first few spins of Blood Visions, I did something I’ve seen plenty of lazy music writers do when listening to punk rock: I thought, “How can I compare Jay Reatard to the Ramones?” Of course, there are plenty of similarities: subtly doubled vocals, songs without preamble, strong hooks (I’ll be singing the melody to “Nightmare” for days). But after a few listens, I think Blood Visions’ nearest neighbor is early Wire (Pink Flag and Chairs Missing specifically). Reatard has a Bruce Gilbert-esque ear for angular riffs and a real lack of reverence for traditional songwriting. He juxtaposes melodies and tempos, which creates drastic mood shifts between verses and choruses, and loves to build to whirling climaxes of noise (“It’s Such a Shame”, “Death is Forming”).
Blood Vision’s lyrical concerns are a little more apolitical than Wire’s, but he is just as good at communicating a similar brand of isolation and paranoia. This most directly manifests itself with the presence of death detailed earlier, but also when Reatard takes on the voice of lonely individuals. Sometimes these characters are sad (“Not a Substitute”, “Nightmares”) and other times frightening (“I See You Standing There”, “Fading All Away”), but in each case, Reatard takes on the role of an “I” pining for some “You”. The frightening loneliness makes for interesting songs which place the usually paranoid Reatard (“It’s what they wanna give me! Blood visions!”) in the place of some sort of antagonistic voyeur.
Despite his forays into the minds of the amoral, Jay is most comfortable as the victim. His yelps are most effective when he fears attack by some other (I’m thinking specifically of the first and last tracks). He layers these vocals over a sparse bed of savage guitar and an urgent rhythm section. I picture him finishing each song, dropping his guitar, and fleeing his garage from the vague “They” which pursues him. Is it any wonder that he’s bleeding on the cover?