Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs inhabits the liminal space between intimacy and detachment
Original release date: 21 January 2014
Label: Orchid Tapes
Just eight years ago and yet barely recognisable now, 2014 was a transitional year for music.
The digital underground of free mixtapes and bedroom pop was colliding with major label artists, narrowing the gap between indie and mainstream playing fields. Beyoncé was working with James Blake, Frank Ocean was collaborating with Alex G, poptimism was taking root through the lens of pop feminism, and suddenly everyone with a blog had an incredibly urgent opinion about Miley Cyrus. Meanwhile, PC Music artists were laying the foundations of what would ultimately evolve into the super-processed and subversive hyperpop sound of today. One 22-year-old producer and songwriter from Baltimore, Maryland, however, was oblivious to these shifting sands, creating a sound world that was at odds with the wider musical trends.
Sam Ray conceives records the way most people daydream; not as a linear narrative with a strict framework, but as a series of moments that follow a subliminal logic. His official debut under his electronic alias, Ricky Eat Acid, is a deeply connected album that takes much of its inspiration from the minutiae of everyday life; tail lights blinking at a set of traffic lights, a patch of sun falling across an unmade bed in a certain way. As Ray put it himself in an interview at the time: “I’d always be driving alone past roadworks at night. I tried to figure out, how do I get this weird feeling that I can’t explain to people into a song?”
In fact, a lot of inspiration for Three Love Songs comes from driving – whether it’s alone past roadworks at night or around with friends listening to a radio evangelist bellowing about a vengeful God (whose voice, captured by a tape recorder, appears on In Rural Virginia…). Ray has previously attributed the most “integral” part of his writing process to “constant driving etc, whether to purposefully clear my head or be forced to it by travel/commute”, and that meditative yet attentive state particular to being behind a wheel can be felt throughout Three Love Songs – a quiet, slow-burning record that infuses the smallest moments with questions about our own mortality.
This granular attention to detail – emotional, as well as tangible – gives each song the same overtired, hypersensitive feeling of being up at 5am. In that state, everything becomes acute. There is an almost unbearable amount of meaning to be found in the ephemeral, which is mirrored in the care and detail present in Ray’s music – not just in how it sounds, but in how it’s composed. “I’ll take a song on piano that I love and I will try to isolate one note, one chord, and then try to turn it into something unrecognisable from its source,” Ray explains in the same interview. Organic instrumentation is sliced into such small fragments it’s hard to identify what’s really being played, while the few recognisable samples that are present – like the line “my only wish is I die real”, taken from a cover of Drake’s Take Care, which is built from a sample of Jamie xx and Gil Scott-Heron’s I’ll Take Care of You – are so divorced from their origins they feel like déjà vu. This gives the album a soothing sense of familiarity, offset by a melancholy sort of eeriness that catches you somewhere between fear and heartbreak.
Three Love Songs was released through the bedroom pop label Orchid Tapes (who would go on to release Alex G’s breakthrough album DSU) in January 2014. In many ways it’s an album deeply connected to the time and the place it was made. In the years before its release, Ray released music for free on Bandcamp – not just as Ricky Eat Acid, but as part of the lo-fi pop outfit Julia Brown and the on-off indie-punk group Teen Suicide; a direct-to-fan approach he has returned to in recent years. But in a larger sense it’s an evergreen attempt at grappling with everyday melancholy, and its virtues are only heightened as we continue along a trajectory where the big picture absorbs everything else.
On Three Love Songs, the obviously poignant and seemingly trivial sit side-by-side, as the tracks explore everything from what Ray’s cat’s last day outdoors must have felt like before he died (Big Man’s Last Trip Outside) to The Sims (God Puts Us All in the Swimming Pool). There’s a kind of absurdity to collapsing these categories and treating them with equal warmth, empathy and fear. It creates an environment in which everything is meaningful, to the point where nothing can be taken too seriously, pushing the listener into a state of dreamlike delirium. The outside world temporarily blurs and, for a moment, you’re left with the sun spilling over your bed sheets, and whatever that means to you.