Review Summary: Natural evolution.
Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge fan of Sam Ray's work, across the board. In fact, it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to describe or talk about his music without 'gushing' or 'fanboying.' Considering how much of an impact his music has had in my life it is practically impossible for me to describe his music without bringing my personal experiences into the discussion. His music has an ability to do certain things that no other music can do, and there is an immeasurable value in that feeling. With that in mind, Sam Ray, collaborating with a few of his peers, has crafted his most mature and evolved work, An Abundance of Strawberries. Sam takes his uncanny ability to create feelings of nostalgia and sadness and combines it with music full of triumphant beauty and inexplicable tranquility.
The album starts out with the title track, which is a rather unorthodox opener as far as Sam's works goes, being one of the longest songs on the album, and also being a very atmospheric track. Instead of the song being bare-bones acoustic guitar and singing, the track builds and builds into a climax that I can really only describe as beautiful. At this point, my first time hearing this album, I thought Julia Brown had gone in a more indie folk direction, but I didn't realize how varied the album would be until the next two songs came in. After the first song comes the song Snow Day, which, unlike the opener, focuses on electronic elements and a more spacey atmosphere coupled with iconic Sam Ray vocals and lyrics with memorable lines like "Your brother has guns, he showed me them. Your brother does drugs, he gave me some." The lyrics for this song (and frankly most of the songs on the album) would come off as slightly immature if it wasn't for the perfect delivery of the vocals.
Now, this far into the album, it's clear Sam isn't doing the exact same thing he's always done. The songs feel thought out, it feels as if it wasn't recorded in a bedroom at nighttime, but outside in a field. The underlying sense of melancholy is replaced with a feeling of peace and joy, even though there may be sadness present it's all so beautiful and alluring that even when he sings about drug addiction and loneliness it's hard not to find equanimity in his words and feel comforted. And even with with the songs more driven on atmosphere and delicacy, there are more straightforward songs like All Alone In Bed or The Way You Want with absolutely infectious vocal melodies coupled with irresistible instrumentals that create songs as fun as they are heartfelt.
The best part about An Abundance of Strawberries though, is the variety. As great as the more poppy songs are, and as essential they are to the album, the songs that really shine and stand out are the more atmospheric, slow moving, and beautiful songs like The Body Descends or Closing (on a roof). Songs like these take a minute to slow down and really process things rather than just throw catchy melodies at you over and over, and with the perfect placement and flow of songs throughout the album the variety is all the more present and all the more effective. Through thirteen songs and forty minutes of music the new Julia Brown is a delightful experience, as well as being atmospheric and emotional. An Abundance of Strawberries is, above all else, the soundtrack to life.