Sam Ray sings of drug addiction, ruin, and transcendence.EXPAND
Sam Ray sings of drug addiction, ruin, and transcendence.

American Pleasure Club Finds Beauty in the Ugliness of the World

There’s a lot you can read into the title of American Pleasure Club’s latest album, A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This. On the one hand, it’s a statement of profound world-weariness and resignation; the sort of thing an Eeyore might say after clocking in at work. Looked at from a different angle, though, and it could be read as a wide-eyed exultation: a whole fucking lifetime of this.

It’s a dichotomy that’s most powerfully expressed in “this is heaven & id die for it.” American Pleasure Club’s Sam Ray sings “the body aches when you tell it to quit / but this is heaven & I’d die for it” over peals of feedback and crunchy guitars. A song about the pleasures of getting high, it also catalogs the brutal grind of a junkie’s life — how something can wear you down until you feel like an exposed nerve and yet still gives you just enough fleeting joy to welcome that rawness.

Drugs are a running theme throughout much of Ray’s work. His knowledge of them is experiential and hard-won: He’s been open about his struggles with heroin addiction over the years, a struggle that comes in part from growing up around Baltimore, a city so notorious for its hard-drug problems that it’s been called the heroin capital of the U.S.

That push-pull between transcendence and ruin is also embodied by the band’s sound.

One is struck by the stylistic diversity of Ray’s work as American Pleasure Club. A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This jumps from confessional songwriting to indie rock-guitar heroics to meditative, sample-based soundscapes that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Burial record. Hazy and woozy, it’s an album that oscillates between sounding blissed-out and numb.

The entire album is a fascinating contrast to APC’s last release, 2017’s mini-album I Blew on a Dandelion and the Whole World Disappeared. A record built almost entirely on Ray playing lo-fi folk songs (save for the nine-minute noise drone on the last song), it sounds like the work of a different band entirely.

American Pleasure Club used to be a different band: From 2009 until 2017, they were called Teen Suicide. The band made a name for themselves with their noise-pop sound, but internal strife, drugs, and other issues led to the group undergoing several lineup changes. Through the years, Teen Suicide/American Pleasure Club’s Sam Ray has been the band’s north star and creative center.

Part of what makes American Pleasure Club’s discography so fascinating is it how it intersects and bleeds over to Ray’s other projects. In addition to working in APC, Ray also records as Julia Brown and Ricky Eat Acid. As Julia Brown, Ray created lo-fi indie pop with a ramshackle feel; as Ricky Eat Acid, Ray experimented with samples and electronics to forge slippery tracks that sound like transmissions from a radio station in outer space.

You can hear the influence of these other projects in APC, especially from the sampledelic Ricky Eat Acid. Lifetime highlight “Let’s Move to The Desert” is built around a sample from Frank Ocean’s “At Your Best You Are Love,” recalling the ghostly beauty of Ricky Eat Acid’s “in my dreams we’re almost touching,” which creates an entire universe of sounds out of a looped Drake sample.

It’s what Sam Ray does best: taking an isolated moment of sound or imagery and blowing it up until it consumes everything around it. Like a junkie’s high that blots out the rest of the world, American Pleasure Club’s songs turn off the lights and invite you to get comfy in their darkness.

American Pleasure Club is playing on Saturday, May 12, at The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix. Tickets are $13 to $15 at therebellounge.com.

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