Somewhere in the sprawling 26 tracks of the latest, and allegedly final, LP from Teen Suicide, It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot, you might think about the end of lo-fi recordings. Not that there wouldn’t be any more lo-fi records, but that It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, at once internally coherent and transgressive, sort of takes the genre to its final, logical conclusion. Such a conclusion would be both fallacious and absurd, but somewhere in the record’s nearly 70 minutes, you might entertain the possible truth in fallacy and absurdity.
Teen Suicide is the brainchild of Sam Ray, who also records with the band Julia Brown and solo as Ricky Eat Acid. This group, though, started as something of a joke. Ray and a rotating cast of collaborators recorded shoddy, intense pop songs, throwing them up on Bandcamp with intentional haphazard. The name, which Ray has come to regret, reflected his insouciance. Releasing early collections called DC snuff film and waste yrself, how serious could a band called Teen Suicide be? But the story of Teen Suicide is as much about Ray’s fragmented pop songs as it is about the reaction to them. While Ray has gotten the expected controversy on the name, more important has been growth of a dedicated following to Teen Suicide. After the band broke up in 2013, it was the fans that led Ray to record a final collection under the moniker.
It’s the Big Joyous Celebration is remarkable for its scope and its granularity. Ray paints with a broad musical pallet, reflecting a wide range of influences and collaborators — including Owen Pallett and members of Girlpool and Elvis Depressedly. Teen Suicide shifts gears from vulnerable acoustic songs like “Big Mistake” to fuzzy rippers like “God”. On the whirring and beautiful “Wild Thing Runs Free”, Auto-Tuned vocals intersect with a soft drum loop and a bright guitar line.
Ray’s polyglot sensibilities can be dislocating; Teen Suicide and It’s the Big Joyous Celebration are many things at once. But amidst what sounds like postmodern anxiety — think of the satisfaction and irritation of Ariel Pink’s pom-pom — lie simple songs about the profoundly mundane. Consider Ray’s vulnerability on a lyric from “It’s Just A Pop Song”: “Do you wanna come over?/ I’ve got three Netflix accounts/ We could watch a different show on each screen.” He suggests the dislocation of modernity (or postmodernity), intermingled with something recognizably human, specifically the invitation to come over, to lay together for a moment amid the soft glow of screens and the howling hum of the 21st century. It seems Ray spends a lot of time riding around in cars, waiting in parking lots, and other banalities, which, of course, says everything. Late in the record, he titles a track “My Little World”. It’s a bright and dubby composition, suggesting something of the driving impulse here.
The marginalia is everything. It’s not a new idea, the search for meaning, the paved hellscapes of America’s suburbs. But listeners will hear a movingly intentional Ray on the four-song suite of “Beauty”, “Pavement”, “America”, and “Devotion”. On the third of those tracks, Ray asks a heartbreaking question: “How old were you when you first fell out of love with the world?” The use of “first” suggests just how caught we are in the unfolding dialog between cynicism and faith. We keep falling out of love with the world, which means we keep falling in love with it too.
There won’t be another record from Teen Suicide, though Ray will keep making music. It is the close of one thing and the opening of something else — a liminal gesture of exit and entrance. Ray draws his listeners in and pushes them away. Teen Suicide is the joke that went serious, an inversion, the widescreen record about little failures and little joys. The album contains the same paradoxical satisfaction of saying “Go Away Closer”. If all modern lo-fi recordings owe something to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, It’s the Big Joyous Celebration marks another milepost in the genre, something that future bedroom recordings will confront, wrestle with, and imitate.
Essential Tracks: “It’s Just A Pop Song”, “Wild Thing Runs Free”, and “America”