Given the special brand of nihilism that Sam Ray has espoused over the past couple years under his various monikers (the most notable being the Baltimore noise punk band Teen Suicide and the catchall ambient and beats project Ricky Eat Acid), it should have been obvious that the tail end of 2012 would find Ray indulging further in a narcotized, lilting brand of tape warped drone. Coming as a spiritual successor to his landmark work as Ricky Eat Acid, most notably Seeing Little Ghosts Everywhere, Ray uses summer made me blue; summer gave me sky to further expand into a sensual world of self-exploratory ambient music, sheltered from the outside world and augmented by the frequent use of spoken word samples.
The tracks are short, almost disarmingly so for a record of this genre and mood. Kicking off with the duo of “art week 2012” and “when you wake up i’ll be gone little cat,” two tracks that initially saw release as part of a label compilation over the summer, Ray establishes the droney self-exploration. The latter, built upon a few slight guitar strums over the slow drone of a cheap keyboard and a warped vocal sample, most evidently recalls the deeply narcotic vibe that Ray sets out to establish. Equal parts seraphic and sinister, harrowing and heavenly, Ray contrasts the beautiful–if sparse–instrumentation across the ghoulish glitchiness of his own voice. It should come as no surprise that the track itself was recorded by a blacked out Ray, only to be discovered days later, matching the slippery nostalgia that the song so clearly evokes.
Elsewhere the vocal samples themselves are used to conjure thematic content. “Climax,” a rework of sorts of the omnipresent Usher song, takes a deconstructionist sort of approach to the pop song. Centered on a brief vocal loop from the original track, Ray subdues it, making something that burbles and ascends. His song is cracked and cloistered–reclusive and insular where Usher’s coo was seductive and inviting. That’s always been a hallmark of Ray’s work, a sort of ghostly disembodied float. It’s present throughout the record, but it’s never more explicit than in the phantasmal otherworldliness that he conjures with Usher’s vocals. He turns to Iphi of Foie Gras in the waning moments of “Monument.” After collapsing Tim Hecker-ish waves of keyboard drones down to their barest moments, Iphi delivers a poem–deeply human despite the often apparitional nature of the music. She talks of “taking advice from people on facebook” and slowly building up…something. A something so crippling that she can’t ever get out of bed.
It’s that sentiment that runs through the remaining spoken word samples and the record as a whole. Slowly building, warped, floaty song length ambient pieces–disjointed in their construction, but united in their mood. It’s humanity and machinations, the slow decay of plinking pianos stretched to their absolute breaking point and the heartbreaking broken addict’s cry that begins “adam4adam.” There’s a lot of ideas, both musically and theoretically, at play here in Ray’s debut under the Heroin Party moniker. It can be jarring at times, his Run DMT-esque dedication to never letting these pieces overstay their welcome, but it might be more appropriate to view these pieces in a different way. Rather than one coherent epic, this is a collection of short poems–paeans to the slow decay of humanity and the sickening float of time gone by. When Ray takes to the piano for brief moments of Satie-ian sparsity, there’s a catharsis at play that’s not achieved by many bedroom ambient composers. Though he’s working within the technical limitations of lower fidelity cassette recordings and the idealogical limitations of pieces that rarely touch the four minute mark, Ray has managed to conjure a mood and sustain it over the course of a full length record, more than most could say. While Seeing Little Ghosts Everywhere may still be the high water mark as far as Ray’s drone-y explorations are concerned, Heroin Party represents a worthy followup, and one that’s certain to soundtrack many a day where you, like Iphi, are kept glued to your bed by the concerns of the outside world.