Personnel: Jessica Delisle (vocals, piano, synthesizer).
Photographer: Jessica Delisle.
With its midtempo groove, sweetly buzzy guitars, and vintage synth patches, "Back to School," the opening tune on Jay Arner's second solo album, Jay II, sounds like a great lost '70s pop single. The effect is strong enough that it takes a while for the chorus to sink in, where Arner declares, calmly but emphatically, "F--k all the rules/Feels like I went back to school." That sums up the overall approach of Jay II, in which Arner offers us catchy and likable pop tunes married to messages that bite the hand that feeds them. Arner wrote and recorded Jay II by himself, outside of help from keyboard player Jessica Delisle (also his partner in their side project Energy Slime), and while the arrangements are a bit lean, these performances sound like they could easily have come from the era that produced the Raspberries and Emitt Rhodes. But as with "Back to School," it doesn't take terribly long for the cynical undercurrents of "Earth to Jay," "Street Freaks," and "Like a Dracula" to present themselves. Arner often seems to have tongue in cheek, but not so much to suggest he's fibbing about his troubles with the rest of the world, and there's enough cool, understated wit in these tunes that one can take this set at face value or imagine it as some sort of satire. As far as the music goes, it's difficult to imagine Arner is putting us on; the melodies are strong, his vocals are smooth, the harmonies are splendid, and his guitar work is effective and period-appropriate throughout. Jay Arner may be something of a misanthrope, but he cares enough to make great pop records for the world at large, and Jay II's juxtaposition of form and content only makes its pleasures more intriguing. ~ Mark Deming