(Image courtesy of Consequence of Sound)
Since 2011, Teen Suicide, with Maryland singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sam Ray at the helm, has been fairly consistently lobbing explosive blasts of genre-scattered lo-fi emo/indie pop onto the internet via Bandcamp. Even with all the activity though, and a decent following, the group (mostly the outlet for Ray’s own songs more than a traditional band) “disbanded” in January of 2013, but returned to performing in various capacities by the end of the same year.
By all accounts, it looked like Ray was going to focus on his other projects, the semi-folky Julia Brown and the warped electronics of Ricky Eat Acid. But in the brief absence of Teen Suicide as an entity, the group’s popularity skyrocketed, led by an increasingly fervent fan base on Tumblr. Originally as a means to court the enthusiasm for the band after its brief dissolution, Ray and the guys got back together and began playing shows again, often with collaborators/friends like Alex G and Elvis Depressedly. In the past couple of years since their so-called reunion, rumors built that the band was planning on releasing one last proper album before finally calling it quits, and on April 1st that album was released on Run for Cover.
It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot is being marketed as Teen Suicide’s swan song, but let’s clear up first that it is not. The band themselves, amid all the swirling hype around the album (“OMG they’re totally breaking up this time”) note on their site that this is the last Teen Suicide record by virtue of the fact that they will be continuing under a different name after this album (and who could blame them, honestly, for wanting to change their name from “Teen Suicide”).
Even with that out of the way, it’s easy to see why this album could be relatively simply digested as a farewell. Over the course of sixty-nine minutes and twenty-six songs, Big Joyous comes across as a definitive statement for the band if only by virtue of its sheer size and scope. Compared to their previous records and EPs, such as 2012’s i will be my own hell because there is a devil inside my body and waste yrself, Big Joyous has a much greater sense of purpose and clarity, even down to the production itself. That’s not to say that Teen Suicide is no longer lo-fi, because they definitely are, but the distortion and mud are slathered on in a way that doesn’t feel obstructive of the songs themselves. Lo-fi gems like “Alex,” “Just a Pop Song,” “God,” and “Pavement” have all the crushed roar and raw-nerve emotion to satisfy any long-term Teen Suicide fans. But, while previous efforts were certainly stylistically diverse, Big Joyous ramps up the diversity factor both inter- and intra- song to an almost ridiculous extent.
A really key example of huge diversity within a single track is the opener, “Living Proof.” Over the course of four and a half mostly-instrumental minutes, this song wheels wildly back and forth from genre to genre, touching variously on somber acoustic guitar work that wouldn’t be out of place on an Alex G record, jazzy-driving electric guitar chord figures, confessional emo, near post-rock lushness topped by soaring trumpets and jazz-inflected keys, and quasi-shreddy alt-rock.
Over the course of the record itself, though, this sense of wild stylistic diversity only becomes more acute. Songs like the quasi-choral, stunningly beautiful “The Big Joyous Celebration,” “Violet,” and “Neighborhood Drug Dealer” somehow find a way to coexist alongside the electronic churn of “Obvious Love” and “Hurricane,” the auto-tuned bliss of “Wild Thing Runs Free,” the almost dance-floor-ready abandon of “The Stomach of the Earth,” and the brutal/noisy punishment of “Beauty.” And that’s where one of the most beautiful characteristics of this album comes to light.
In music composition, our professors often refer back to Leonard Bernstein’s concept of inevitability in music. The best works by composers like Brahms and Beethoven and Mozart and the like are often said to have this quality of inevitability. The music itself is fresh and original in its own right, but it possesses a quality that makes it seem that it is the way it had to be, that it flowed out creatively in a way that was not forced or ill-paced, but instead imparts a very natural, “inevitable” feeling of falling into place.
(Image courtesy of Consequence os Sound)
On such a huge and sprawling album, it would be so easy for Teen Suicide, or any band for that matter, to slip into indulgence and flabby, over-stuffed stylistic glut. But listening to Big Joyous, there’s never a moment where the pace drags, and all the wild changes in style, mood, tempo, and sonic palette somehow manage to avoid a feeling of over-ambitiousness or bloat. Instead, Ray, with the help of the rest of Teen Suicide, has managed to create a record that is not only deeply affecting on an emotional level, but is also one of the only places where going from the almost prayerful beauty of “Neighborhood Drug Dealer” to the placid piano and voice of “Have a Conversation” to the blistering sonic terrorism of “Beauty” to the raucous lo-fi rave-up of “Pavement” seems not only admissible, but somehow inevitable.
With It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot, Teen Suicide has managed to create a milestone in the world of lo-fi music. Teen Suicide is lo-fi’s sprawling epic, and an album so jammed full of emotion, exploration, and amazing songwriting that it will surely be looked at for years to come as an important moment in lo-fi. Whether or not this actually ends up being the final word from Teen Suicide, whatever that might mean, Sam Ray and his band have managed to create an otherworldly, hugely compelling statement of an album that stands on its own as the band’s biggest, boldest, and best statement to date.
Teen Suicide is playing Marathon Music Works on May 22nd with Say Anything and mewithoutyou. Listen to It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot below: