American Pleasure Club is back with their most haunting album yet. Unlike last year’s “A Whole F---ing Lifetime of This,” the more conceptual, artistic “F---ing Bliss” requires some context for enjoyment.
Baltimore musician Sam Ray has been fronting the band, which was formerly known as Teen Suicide, for ten years. 2018’s “A Whole F---ing Lifetime of This” avoids the muffled chaos of previous albums with its new outlook on life. While not entirely positive, the album is nevertheless the dawn after the storm that is the rest of the band’s discography.
Let’s rewind three years. Ray recorded “F---ing Bliss” over nine days in 2015 under the assumption that it would be the last album he would create. While much of American Pleasure Club’s discography is influenced by Ray’s struggles with depression and addiction, this album is the clearest window into the most terrifying parts of his consciousness during his darkest period. Only now does he feel comfortable sharing it with the world.
With this knowledge, what seems like disconcerting noise morphs into one of the most heartbreaking albums I’ve experienced.
Mostly instrumental, the album is headache-inducing at times with the sheer amount of sound in its 25-minute hold. The roaring dirge of the introductory track, “the miserable vision,” is interrupted halfway through by a cacophony of GarageBand percussion and static. Under these layers of fuzz, however, is the same beautiful piano from before that bomb of noise drops.
Ray, anticipating “the miserable vision” to be one of his last songs, conceals the delicate beauty of the piano with almost unbearable harshness. It’s the product of a fascinating choice to document and express his condition rather than create a parting gift of sorts. Ray was, at the time of recording, going through Hell. To him, not shaping his final contribution in that image would be a disservice.
Much of the intrigue of “F---ing Bliss” is in the contradiction between the many layers of each song. Bright choral vocals clash against Ray’s muffled murmur of, “What if there's no heaven? That would be just fine / There's a lot of things I'd like to leave behind in this life,” in the album’s seemingly most positive track, “hello grace.”
In “dragged around the lawn,” Ray cries into a vocoder, “I'm dragging stars in my jaw / The melancholy song,” atop bass fit for a slow tempo club hit.
A dull buzz is omnipresent throughout the album, and it’s undoubtedly intentional rather than the result of poor equipment. Even in the sleepily acoustic closing track, “faith,” there’s something fuzzy that keeps listeners away from the unadulterated instrumentals.
Ray knows there’s beauty in this world, but acknowledges on “F---ing Bliss” that it’s inaccessible sometimes. The release of this album shows his final acceptance of that.
'Music Mondays' is a weekly column run in conjunction with the University of Richmond radio, WDCE.
Contact contributor Gabby Kiser at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kiser is the general manager for WDCE.