by Emma Shepard (@hugejourneyfan)
An Abundance of Strawberries introduces itself with a sad, fuzzy merry-go-round-like synth melody line which melts into soft, heartbreaking lyrics that move like poetry. "I've tried to make a deal with God / it kills me when I can't make you feel loved" hums Sam Ray (Ricky Eat Acid / Teen Suicide) on the introductory title track. Ray is the bedroom-pop powerhouse behind Julia Brown. The project formed in 2013 with the release of To Be Close To You- a light-hearted indie pop album full of lo-fi love songs. With An Abundance… Julia Brown returns, taking on a much darker tone and hitting on sadder elements of love including loss, heartbreak, desire and dread. While the album was self-released [ed note: re-released this January on Joy Void], it was made possible with collaborations from several artists on independent tape label, Orchid Tapes. This includes Caroline White of Infinity Crush, Alex G, and Warren Hildebrand- the founder of the label. The album was pieced together using what we'll call "The Postal Service method-" all contributing artists exchanged song parts via e-mail and Dropbox until a cohesive, complete work was formed. Inspiration for the album came from everywhere and anywhere. Sam Ray samples voicemail messages and broken electronics, recording in various states- whether it was at home, a friend's house, or a studio. The homemade sound lends to itself, creating such an intimate, personal listening experience that I catch myself wondering if I'm eavesdropping.
The album vaguely captures the same melancholy whimsy that became a trademark for Ricky Eat Acid, especially the middle track, "You Can Always Hear Birds," which features an energetic, electronically-driven intro that takes me back to Ricky Eat Acid's 2011 release, Haunt U Forever. That being said, An Abundance of Strawberries has carved out a unique spot in Ray's extensive discography, successfully feeling like a separate project without blending into previous creative endeavors. The album refuses to be background noise. The heavy lyrical content, exceeding Ray's age in maturity, is captivating enough to make you stop and really listen; it arrests you in a meditative trance, lingering long after the album ends.
"The Body Descends," featuring both Hildebrand and White, starts off quietly with minimalistic vocals and piano. It does a slow-burn crescendo into a fuzzy explosion with viola, trumpet, French horn, drums, and layered vocals- feeling like a sad firework display. This is a pivotal track on the album- noisy, hollow, and achingly brash. Lyrically, it neatly wraps all the previous motifs together with a nice, shiny bow. The juxtaposition of this track with the next (and final) three makes the ending syrupy-sweet, fading out with "Bloom," Ray performing solo with an acoustic guitar alongside spacey, verbed-out vocals. After the chillwave invasion that happened in the late 2000s / early 2010s, it can be a challenge to use heavy reverb on vocals without sounding trite. On this closing track, the reverb is used so tastefully- not feeling over-saturated or like a parody of itself, but rather, sounding polished and sophisticated.
An Abundance of Strawberries is a highly impressive accomplishment- capturing something so specific, beautiful, relatable, and human. Sam Ray is an icon of sorts for the d.i.y scene, and with this release he's not only created an artistic milestone for himself, but for the bedroom pop genre.