I think that I’m a masochist for choosing to write about music each week – I find it hard to come up with interesting sentences about the albums and artists I get obsessed with and instead often end up opting to write about the experience of listening to said records in an extremely sappy fashion – presumably to the detriment of whatever poor soul ends up clicking on the URL for this blog post. This is especially the case when it comes to the musicians that have defined my life in some way – bringing me to Sam Ray, the topic of the first half of this post. Sam Ray is a scarily prolific musician (to the point where back in the day I genuinely did not realize that some of my favourite bands were just his side-projects for an embarrassingly long amount of time) mainly known for his work with Teen Suicide, one of the most unfortunately named bands of all time. Sam has practically disowned his earlier material with the band, describing their early career as just “play-acting the punk and garage rock singers that we grew up listening to” – I feel as if this description downplays the significance of this band to all three of us who leaf through our last.fm profiles as a personality trait. Sam later went on to mention how he felt as if he had a knack for “knowing how [to] reshape […] songs from shambling, juvenile indie-rock to fully arranged anthems, adding harmonies and backing vocals, layers of guitars, piano, keyboard, drum machines and strings” yet how he still felt insecure about his work, hiding his writing “behind distortion, heavy reverb, and a half-serious aesthetic, always able to dismiss […] criticism […] by saying ‘You can’t tell this is just a joke? We’re called Teen Suicide.'”.
This combination of lush composition, artificial half-heartedness, and broken amplifiers captures exactly why Sam Ray’s work resonated with those who grew up in an era where every album recorded was instantly available yet all of it seemed shite. Teen Suicide’s discography was just pop blaring out of a broken speaker – songs filled with emotions that barely escaped the cheap microphones the band presumably recorded them with. Records like ‘I Will Be My Own Hell’ or ‘DC Snuff Film/Waste Yrself’ felt important (to me at least) as they seemed to perfectly capture the constant contrast between entrenched irony and overspilling sincerity that defined the communities I hung out around at the time – Sam would pour his heart out and then shrug it off by adding distortion or sampling random YouTube videos. Teen Suicide records were instant (‘DC Snuff Film/Waste Yrself’ is only fourty-seven minutes despite being a double album), irony-laden, and oddly intimate – a combination that probably defines my taste in music (and writing) to this day. However we’re not here to talk about Teen Suicide (I wouldn’t trust myself to do so at this hour in the morning) – today’s post is about an in-between period in Sam’s discography. Teen Suicide broke up in 2012, reforming in 2014 to sign to indie record label Run For Cover – essentially the Motown for disgruntled /r/indieheads users. Sam entered a manic episode, envisioned an alternative name for the band, and created a record that would sit on his computer for nearly four years – bringing us to today’s first album.
‘Fucking Bliss’ by American Pleasure Club (the new name for Teen Suicide) fully clicked with me for a total of three hours at some stage during March last year and I’ve been chasing after that sensation ever since. In the same way that Jean-François Lyotard referred to ‘Libidinal Economy’ as his “evil book, the book that everyone writing and thinking is tempted to do”, ‘Fucking Bliss’ feels like Sam Ray’s evil album – it stands out from the rest of his (insanely varied) discography and the friend I shout to about Sam Ray’s work barely mentions it when we talk. This record was recorded over four days in 2015 during what Sam referred to as a “manic, terrified, paranoid burst of energy” – he was heavily influenced by Edouard Levé’s final novel ‘Suicide’ (which Levé finished shortly before taking his own life) and was genuinely convinced that this would be the last record he’d release. It should then be unsurprising that ‘Fucking Bliss’ is an intense record – with Alex Robert Ross aptly describing it for VICE as a combination of “doom metal, warped pop, and ambient drones, with vocals that Ray describes as “manipulated, buried, obscured, affected, or horrifically mangled,” burying all easy meaning beneath the mess and swirl of the mix”. In the same way that Edouard Levé’s final novel aims to mimic the human memory through its seemingly random structure, ‘Fucking Bliss’ feels like an attempt to capture the fundamentally dissonant and often-contradictory nature of mental exhaustion – ambient piano pieces break down into waves of discordant noise, 808s intermittently drone on in the background, and whatever vocals you can discern are autotuned to the point of sounding lethargic and inhuman. This album feels like a twenty-five-minute glimpse into the hazy void of depressive anhedonia – RateYourMusic user Rickthelai likened the record to “a series of pen pal letters to the abyss” and I feel as if that description perfectly summarizes why you should give it a listen.
I live for random, unprompted internet interactions – even if the act of looking at unread Twitter DMs fills me with dread. I got to experience one of these spontaneous experiences when an acquaintance sent me a Discord message out of the blue asking if I’d hop on a Watch2Gether lobby and listen to music with her while she took some research chemical that sounded like a rejected Autechre song. This mutual kept on adding random playlists to our watch queue – to the point where we ended up just sitting through random Terrace McKenna lectures and old VHS rips instead of actually listening to music. One of these documentaries that she unintentionally queued was about Iasos, the next musician I’m going to write about today. According to Wikipedia Iasos began to hear what he referred to as “paradise music” at the age of 20, later moving to California to work on recreating this music (that totally wasn’t influenced by taking a shit-tonne of drugs on a daily basis) that supposedly came to him from a higher power called Vista. This brings us to ‘Inter-Dimensional Music’, a new-age masterpiece released in 1975 that I’m beginning to get obsessed with.
In 1989 the psychology department of Plymouth State College claimed that Iasos’s music received the highest rating for being most like the music people heard during near-death experiences – I feel as if that fact captures why I find ‘Inter-Dimensional Music’ so interesting. Iasos’s music is the music of peaceful collapse – it feels like the soundtrack of a weird dream-like porno VHS rotting in someone’s abandoned shed or the hold music for a front company that no longer exists. It’s new-age with all its excesses and intricacies (I mean there’s a four-minute track called ‘The Bubble Massage’ for Christ’s sake) and that sound feels morbidly interesting at a time where everything seems to be falling apart. One of the best things about music is that it feels deeply generational – musicians become obsessed with a sound, attempt to recreate it, fail to do so (as is natural), and create something more interesting in the process – Autechre’s horrifying IDM arrived from attempting to recreate the group’s first exposure to techno and Joy Division arrived from really wanting to sound like the Sex Pistols. Because of this, the experience of discovering these hereditary links always feels captivating – sure you’ll never appreciate the record in the same way as the musician you fell in love with, but you get to understand the context of what they created (and find something quite interesting in the process). Sure Boards of Canada may have perfected these analog soundscapes by making them ominous and slapping drum machine loops over them, but ‘Inter-Dimensional Music’ is still worth a listen – even if you aren’t doing so with a scarily high Dutch friend.
I find it oddly funny that I spend half of these pieces complaining about being incapable of writing about music yet still keep on trying to do so. Just before I fell asleep this morning (after bailing on writing an outro for this blog post) I started to think about Brent DiCrescenzo’s infamous Kid A review for Pitchfork – one of the punching bags people used to make fun of the blog whenever they scored an album incorrectly. DiCrescenzo’s review got dunked on really hard for barely talking about the record in question, focusing on the experience of watching shooting stars over Thom Yorke’s sudden discovery of synthesizers. I feel as if my brain has been melted to the point where these random minor controversies or forgotten blog posts and articles make up a significant portion of my memory – instead of quoting some stuck up pederast from the 1800s to make my points I often end up using old Oneohtrix Point Never Interviews and I wonder if that shapes my writing in some way. I think my work is heavily inspired by that Kid A review and that freaks me out. I’d expand on this point a bit further but it’s 11:14pm and I’m running heavily behind schedule – perhaps I’ll offer more clarity when I inevitably churn out a 20,000-word essay on Sam Ray’s discography.