Slow Dance is a dream pop record. Not in the common sense of the term which signifies ethereal and blurry bliss outs by bands like Cocteau Twins and other 4ADers, but in the sense that it is music that evokes dreams, myths, and fantasies directly through its singer’s words and affectations. Its music is steeped in rebellious pop music traditions of the 50’s (R&B), 60’s (garage rock), 70’s (punk) and 80’s (new wave), but its characters all aim for the skies found in our hearts and minds.
Jeremy Jay creates instantly catchy music out of minimal elements, mixing jangly garage rock, chilly new wave synths, skuzzy low-register riffs, and R&B into a tense and moody concoction. The music is simple but the whole project dwells in a weird WTF-ness that is difficult to pin down. Thanks to effete vocals, icy synths, and insistent beats, the mood for much of the album has an after-dark surrealism that puts it as much in the same camp with Moroder-loving, minimalist-disco acts like the Chromatics and Glass Candy as it does with twangy rockers like Duane Eddy and the Modern Lovers.
The characters celebrated here are romantic and passionate heroes, riding horses across moonbeams, being singled out by the reflecting light of a disco ball, sweetly remembering ice skating, and not afraid to ask around for a slow dance or two or three or four. At the same time, they are also solitary aesthetes, walking around town “with my pea coat on”, “traveling across the country to bring you new life”, “galloping through the forest”, and “making a stand on a block of ice”. The lead off track “We Were There” is the most energetic, upbeat track on the album, ushering things in with overlapping guitar and synth leads over a steady backbeat. “In This Lonely Town” follows, with the best riff on the album and a simple song about walking around town looking for a place to fit in. Two of the first four songs are about piloting a horse through mystical environments, with attendant calls of “Getty-up!” and “Canter, canter, canter.” Another has a chorus that is a list of corny romantic clichés, “By the fireplace/Blankets, hot chocolate/Love/ Ice…skating.” There are three songs about dancing, and the musical accompaniment on these tracks falls closer to classical R&B balladry. Standout track “Where Could We Go Tonight?” brings the album to a close with a climaxing coda and an angelic figure who keeps their “head up high” and their “feet on the ground” while they play “those strings on a noble guitar.” Throughout Slow Dance, Jay’s delivery is peppered with breathy punctuations, flat and cracking hollers, and shouts of “Yeah!” and “Play that beat!”
All the creative peculiarities combine to make the music sound precious, and make Jeremy Jay seem like some sort of strange manchild-savant. That’s not meant to be a put down. The confluence of preciousness and archetypal myth-making really brings this into focus. Although 5% of me wonders if this could be some sort of orchestrated comedy routine, I prefer to think Jeremy Jay is sincerely writing and recording with his inner child on behalf of every shy youngster in their bedroom, finding an escape while imitating their heroes in front of the full-length mirror on the back of their door. Jay has stepped through the mirror to the other side to bring us Slow Dance, and he has triumphed like the best pop idols, engaging our imagination while being simultaneously cool and strange, tender and tough, arty and poppy, traditional and innovative. This is one invitation to dance that you shouldn’t pass up.