Matthew Jay


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Being burdened with comparisons to Elliott Smith and Nick Drake -- as Jay was leading up to the appearance of Draw, his debut album -- couldn't have been anything but annoying, especially since he doesn't really sound like either of them. Rather than low-key melancholy (one or two tracks aside -- "You're Always Going Too Soon" certainly sounds initially like Drake revived from the dead and given some caffeine before it fully kicks in), Jay is a more upfront performer. It's not a stretch to say that David Gray's breakthrough success a couple of years before Draw appeared helped win Jay a contract. For all the hype one way or another, Draw is squarely in the middle of things -- this is hardly the Holy Grail, but neither it is a disaster. Quite simply, it's a promising debut, no more and no less, with enough sample/loop nods in the adult alternative sense to win over the type of crowd who finds Beck astoundingly experimental. The production touches and arrangements actually help give Jay a useful sonic identity -- while not bursting down any walls one way or another, his songs would be pleasant but somewhat nondescript on their own. Touching on everything from quietly energetic pop/rock blasts sliding into calmer grooves ("Only Meant to Say") to brief, quietly haunting instrumental sketches like "Molasses," Draw dabbles around and often succeeds. Sometimes his more anthemic work can be a touch ham-handed -- there's nothing in, say, "Call My Name Out" that hasn't been heard elsewhere more effectively, semi-heroic lead electric guitar and all. But songs like the leadoff, "Four Minute Rebellion," and the slightly Beta Band-like "Remember This Feeling" are pleasant enough listening -- not challenging, but by no means unworthy. If Jay lets his more wayward impulses come to the fore in future, things will keep looking up.

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