“There is only you in the light & nothing else” is the tentative opening song of the debut album, Three Love Songs, of Maryland-based Sam Ray’s ambient solo project, Ricky Eat Acid. Moving past this slightly unsettling introduction, the listener is presented with an emotionally-wrought and delicate album that gradually flourishes into an aching exploration of love and loss, and how the two are forever interconnected. Multiple listens of this album reveal it as more of a construction of humankind’s visceral response to these feelings of melancholy and loss, rather than a work of sheer technical musicality. Emotion can be volatile, and it is his ability to capture this by conceiving a composite and organic dissonance in each track that has made it such an innovative album.
To go into detail about his previous musical ventures and past work under this moniker would perhaps be a futile endeavor, considering the complete sonic disconnect between the then and now. But it is interesting to consider that it was only a year ago that his newest lo-fi pop band, Julia Brown, grew out of the demise of his pop-punk outfit, Teen Suicide, and their debut album, To Be Close To You came into critical acclaim on websites such as Pitchfork. Where, in Julia Brown and Teen Suicide, the lyrics were the vehicles for the darker themes to be conveyed, Ray has constructed these themes through lush ambient sweeps, working alongside intermittent sounds of discord, which, as the album develops, pave the way for more beat-oriented work. Subtly, he has built themes through sound, elevating the power of electronic music into a realm of human compassion.
Fittingly, it appears that the album can be broken down into three segments. The first third is slightly uncertain: complex, but still beautiful. As the album progresses into the last two thirds, it becomes more assured: intricate, but also comfortable in its ability to evoke meaning clearly, conveyed by a technical conviction and a more robust sound, giving way to dance numbers such as ‘it will draw me over to it like it always does’ and ‘in my dreams we’re almost touching,’ with the latter being an impressive bout of pulsating house, using a spliced and pitched version of Drake’s Take Care as the vocal sample. Yet, for the first five songs of the album, the sound is encapsulated in this fuzzy ambient soundscape, where every warble and electronic blip seems to be placed spontaneously, rather than through astute planning. The track, ‘In rural Virginia; watching glowing lights crawl from the dark corners of the room,’ has that unsettling nature, reminiscent of those sermon-dotted Godspeed You! Black Emperor tracks that meander right on through until they dive into an abyss of ambient hiss. The versatility of this album demonstrates the immense talent Ray has in being able to create anything he puts his mind to, and this is highly commendable.
Moving onto the latter segments of the album, the piano-laden ‘it will draw me over to it like it always does’ is the moment where the album caves into a synergy between technical certainty and the impulsive emotionality that weaves its way throughout this album. Melodic piano lines are coated by effervescent electronic beats, and a gorgeous vocal sample adds an almost palpable melancholia to the track. This track, and the following, ‘in my dreams we’re almost touching’, neatly slot themselves in as the pinnacle of the album, only to be followed by the next four songs, which seem to thrive off of the residual energy that formed in the tracks above. The energy takes the form of sincerity, with the track ‘God puts us all in the swimming pool,’ fashioned with only the most honest of notes and a heartfelt yearning in the slightly screwed vocal sample. Here, and on the following standout seven-minute track, ‘Outside your house; the lights went out & there was nothing,’ the vast discord in the first third of the album has been replaced by a lucidity and warmth, able to bring about goosebumps at almost every passing second. ‘I can hear the heart breaking as one’ gently carries the listener to the close of the album, only for the contented sound in ‘Starting over’ to bring about that gooey and clichéd sense of ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’
The buzz around this album has been incredible among the greater-DIY scene. There is definitely a sense of the love and support this album has received imbued into it, giving it that feeling of warmth, which is so often a feature on albums made by members of the global DIY collective, FMLY. From the first few Tweets of awe coming from his close friends who had listened to Three Love Songs before it was released, to the incredible amount of blog love coming in from around the world, it is safe to say that this is an album that has touched many lives: an incredible testament to the delicate beauty that Ray was able to weave into his music.
A lot can be said about someone who is able to make good music because they’re highly trained and can play to a crowd, but, often, even more can be said about a musician who is able to make a work of art so delicate and composed that it speaks to people on a more intimate level, able to evoke feelings that tend to be suppressed. Ray has crafted an album that speaks from the core of its being, with his own understanding of himself and his music guiding the listener. His ability to make the multiple field and live recordings combine and transform from their fragile and modest beginnings into something magnificent is proof that this is definitely an artist to keep an eye on, with the likelihood of him wowing us in the future pretty high.
Listen to it here: