At this stage in the creation and distribution of music, the essential challenge for fans is not scarcity. I can’t tell you how my eyes roll when people say things like “There’s just not much good stuff out there”. It’s not the content, it’s the out there that is the challenge. Everyone has a different map of out there, whether it be the radio, a constellation of music blogs or website, a local scene, or a group of friends. This is why companies like Pandora and Rdio have leaped determinedly into the taste-solving business, hiring full-time employees to create, manage and improve their complex recommendation engines. Everyone’s favorite songs are waiting for them, streaming in dim corners of the internet, lonely in their infinite loops, fingertips outstretched and eager to massage a set of eardrums that will understand their unique caress.
That’s why it’s such a joy to stumble across something awesome like Jay’s debut LP, Vacaciones en Vietnam, released through the Discos Humeantes label. Jay’s sound is a strange and engrossing psychedelic swirl, subdued in some ways, aggressive in others. Trebly, urgent guitars keen and buzz throughout, evoking feelings of moisture, rain and mist, clouds and sweat. They are buttressed by drumming that is by turns tom-heavy tribal and cymbal-crashing post-hardcore, with additional shakers and other Latin percussion occasionally added to taste. The bass is full and groovy, allowing the skittering, buzzing guitars to roam and intertwine freely. The vocals are shouted, reverbed, often indistinct, their tone carrying a particular mixture of weariness and conviction – all-night chants amplified by bullhorns and meandering through a fog of tear gas.
Jay cycle through a number of different songwriting approaches on Vacaciones. Tortured broodings give way to phantasmagoric grooves in in “Heavy Metal 1.” Coastal psychedelic ideals somehow come out subdued and estranged in “Motero”. Nightmarish gloom and frightening shouts dominate the dark woods of “Jumanji.” “Heavy Metal 2” sounds like the accompaniment to some eldritch bonfire dance. “Cerebro” is a brief and exuberant display of off-kilter joy (including excited whoops). “Heavy Metal 4” is an unsettling session of cruel schoolyard smash-and-bash.
There are also various interludes that arrange the instrumental elements of the album into minimalist collages. They preserve the general mood of uncertainty and confusion. One weakness of Vacaciones is that many of the songs are not terrifically distinct. There are a few hummable hooks and choruses, a few memorable riffs, but with so much sonic (youth) sturm and drang, and such a disengaged vocal approach, it is easy to let the songs just slide by semi-anonymously.
However, Jay go out on a memorable note with album closer and crown jewel “Ganas,” which translates to “desire,” “win,” or “forward” – all of which are apt titles. The song begins with catchy monster of a riff, soon joined by grave and echoed pronouncements, which give way to youthful shouts. “Ganas” is an infectious slice of radical change. It is the sound of the rebels – their eyes burning with hope through bruised and dirty faces, their hands clutching tattered flags and muddy rifles – as they stream into the presidential palace. Midway through the chants of “Ganas!” there is an immaculate chord change – the boys shed their shell of protective no-wave nihilism, which gives way to a fast-expanding universe of belief and longing. It’s a touching, fleeting moment, followed an acceleration of the song into a sudden terminus. There is a small and plaintive piece of folk ambiance in the space that follows – all acoustic strums, whistles and coos – that shows a vulnerable, perhaps reformed side of the band.