Matthew Jay: Draw (2001)
In the early hours of September 25, 2003, English singer-songwriter Matthew Jay fell to his death from a seventh-floor apartment window in London. He was 24 years old. Signed at 20 and having released his debut album “Draw” two years before his death, Jay was often compared to the likes of Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith – all artists who died young including Smith, who died less than a month later.
Jay’s death wasn’t ruled a suicide, though it remains surrounded by mysterious circumstances. Critically acclaimed, he was gaining momentum. He was one of the first new artists I discovered after moving to Ottawa. I caught him in a televised interview and watched his video for the catchy, Beatles-esque lead single “Let Your Shoulder Fall” on OMNI.
Jay didn’t seem right for the ranks of the troubled male solo artists who preceded him. His lyrics are largely hopeful, creeds that encourage a general betterment in humanity, found in the title and upbeat chorus of “Become Yourself.” Overall, “Draw” is a collection of solid, dreamy pop songs that flirt ever so slightly with non-organic instruments. Jay’s accent lends a gentle warmth to love songs “Please Don’t Send Me Away,” the soaring “Call My Name Out” and the too-appropriately titled “You’re Always Going Too Soon.” The instrumental intermission of “Molasses” hints at his more exploratory side, a haunting melody of piano and acoustic guitar that drowns in bass and ghostly female vocals.
Jay also allowed himself the room to simply sit with his acoustic and communicate the simple, humourous words of cheeky opener “Four Minute Rebellion,” a song about songs for rebels who don’t know any better. He closes things nearly as simply with “A World Away,” as acoustic guitar and Rhodes piano play lightheartedly over the percussion of finger snaps. Two albums of Jay’s have been released posthumously, including a collection of rarities and b-sides and one crafted from unfinished fragments, given new life by contributing musicians. “Draw” was set to be little more than an impressive debut, an indication of things to come from a talented songwriter. Now, it stands as a testament to Jay’s young life.
“Draw” is a thoroughly infectious record, packed with memorable lyrics and heavy-hitting pop melodies. It lacks the undercoating of melodrama found on so many projects by the likes of Smith and Drake, brilliant artists in their own right, yet forever associated with their ruinous lifestyles and mental illnesses. The comparisons persist only because Jay fit the frame of a bold, introspective songwriting talent. He was still so new to a burgeoning career, too young to have made any real mistakes or to write songs that came out of any kind of real darkness. His “Remember This Feeling” proceeds at a determined pace, clearing the floor for some great vocal layering during the choruses, serving as a reminder to appreciate the moment as it happens, for like Jay, it is gone before we know it.
Video for “Call My Name Out” by Matthew Jay: