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American Pleasure Club - Fucking Bliss Music Album Reviews

The album Sam Ray envisioned as his last begs close listening, but punctuated with impenetrable harshness, it is almost prohibitively scattered.

Death has a way of magnifying an artist’s life. Suddenly, there’s a cliff where their output ends; absent new work, fans and critics are left to analyze and dissect what’s left, and to begin to define some sort of legacy. Some artists, aware of their imminent demise, may try to get out in front of the posthumous obsession. David Bowie, secretly suffering from liver cancer, created the complex and beautiful Blackstar as a “parting gift,” and died just two days after its release. The French artist and writer Édouard Levé had similar foresight, drafting a novel about suicide 10 days before taking his own life in 2007. “Henceforth, the shadow of this tall black tree hides the forest that was your life,” he wrote, pondering the nature of his own remembrance.


It is Levé who inspired Sam Ray to record fucking bliss, his own last will and testament, over the span of nine days in 2015 during “a horrifying, awful time” when he felt certain he would be dead before the release of his next record. Thankfully, Ray lived to see that record, Teen Suicide’s final release It's the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot. He is happily married, irreverently tweeting, and touring with his band, now renamed American Pleasure Club. fucking bliss, then, is a sort of memento mori, a brief, dense peek into Ray’s mind as he imagined his own mortality.

A set of photographs included with the record recall the nature shots Ray posted on the band’s Tumblr around the same period, but these are interlaced with trauma: A picture of a lake at sunset is followed by a hand covered in blood. Sandwiched between a lyric sheet and band biography is a photograph of a man, face blacked out with Sharpie marker, injecting himself with a needle.

At its worst moments, fucking bliss can feel similarly jarring. Album opener “the miserable vision” pairs Ray’s breathy vocals with plaintive, simple piano. The facade begins to crack after a minute, when a booming voice cuts in with the force of a bass drop at a poetry reading. Things return to normal for another minute or so before the song makes an emergency landing—suddenly, it’s a pounding dance number played through an amplifier from hell, feedback sputtering like sparks flying from a power saw. Devoid of context, it can feel like Ray is trolling, or testing the listener: “Can you handle it?” the song asks, eyebrows raised. Five tracks in, the jittering, anxious synths of “ban this book” are punctuated by walls of harsh noise, as if to say, “Are you sure?”

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Ray’s eclectic output ranges from IDM as Ricky Eat Acid to emo rock as Teen Suicide and Julia Brown, but fucking bliss most clearly focuses on his electronic work. “hello grace,” a halting, candy-coated track featuring soft female vocals and a punchy drum machine, is reminiscent of “In my dreams we’re almost touching,” the beautifully weird, Drake-sampling number from Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs. “it’s everything to me,” rich with warped, shimmering strings, shares the sonic universe of Ray’s warbly EP am i happy, singing_. But as the album concludes with “faith,” Ray blends the muted guitar of his earlier work with his dark brand of deconstructed pop. Over an acoustic guitar played so limply one fears he’s falling asleep, Ray’s Auto-Tuned vocals barely mask their own desolation. It is the same bleakness found on Teen Suicide tracks like “grim reaper” or “bad vibes forever.”

Each of these songs is uniquely glum, but together, they fail to coalesce into a greater whole. Ostensibly meant as messages left behind, they feel too dense, too layered, too rich with signifiers. What could the crashing drums on “what kind of love?” have meant to Ray’s fractured mind? What about the trap beat mixed with cheery piano on “dragged around the lawn”? No explanation is offered in the lyrics, which are barely audible, pitched down or mixed too low to be meaningful to the human ear. As a concept, the album begs close listening, but punctuated with impenetrable harshness, it is almost prohibitively scattered. Perhaps Ray, whose career as a musician has been defined by bratty immaturity interspersed with moments of beauty, created exactly the impression he would have wanted to leave.


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