Review Summary: If all we get is all we get then that’s all we get, goddamn I guess that’s it
One can’t help a sense of detachment when considering the subtle vein of hope running through the latest Teen Suicide record in the context of their discography. The Maryland lo-fi group has always erred on the somber and even macabre side of things, so to hear vocalist Sam Ray bid wishing luck to those facing the ghosts of his own past such as in closer “If I Don’t See You Before You Leave”, the effect is jarring, albeit immensely tender. This final track centers around an anecdote involving Ray’s friend, who faced addiction and sought forgiveness from those he harmed. This general shift to a third person perspective within the lyricism can be seen in other songs such as “Neighborhood Drug Dealer”.
While the lyrical content seems to bounce back and forth between drug addiction and the afterlife, the sense of narrative is strong, and the closing section of the record lays out these themes the most plainly. Penultimate track “Stomach of the Earth” culminates its house-inspired jaunt with a heavily vocoded passage dripping with sarcastic mundanity. “I watched the beauty of the world condensed tipping too much on a twenty dollar check” Ray concedes in a manner so resigned that it sets a balance between the morbidity and tongue-in-cheek nature of its content.
Now there is a bit of an elephant in the room to address here; this album is long. While just over an hour in length, there are 26 songs written for the album. It can be worrying when an artist is willing to release this much material at once, but Teen Suicide deftly sidesteps this concern with variety and substance. Each track feels fleshed out and containing a distinctive trait, such as the autotuned vocals in “Wild Thing Runs Free” or the almost Pink Floyd-esque instrumentation in the bridge of opener “Living Proof”. Excluding the difficult-to-decipher “Beauty”, nothing here feels like gimmick or filler.
Perhaps it’s these diverse quirks across the record that give it such a welcoming and instantaneous appeal. Lo-fi bedroom pop is often chastised for being willfully inaccessible by nature, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t drawn in by the catchier cuts from The Big Joyous Celebration, such as the sugary “I Don’t Think It’s Too Late” or the raucous lead single, “Alex”. In short, there’s a bit of something for everyone here, with even production values ranging from track to track. Comparing “Alex” to “The Things I Love Are Killing Me” is like a summer blockbuster contrasted with an indie film; the former has a large degree more clarity.
In the context of Teen Suicide’s past work, this new record stands out like a sore thumb. The variety of instrumentation and mood is starkly unique, but can be easily reconciled when considering Ray’s work with his other project, Julia Brown. Indeed, a lot of the material here more resembles Julia Brown than Teen Suicide, making it almost seem like a compendium than a record by one of these bands. If not his opus, this definitely feels more like a ‘Sam Ray & Co.’ record than Julia Brown or Teen Suicide. This isn’t to diminish the efforts of the rest of the group, but the thread of similarities can be plainly and easily traced between projects. Considering this and perhaps the grandiose nature of the record, The Big Joyous Celebration feels like a very comprehensive and poignant statement. The content tends to toe the line between redemption and failure, but always with a glimmer of silver lining. It’s a bit of a cliché to call a work ‘life-affirming’, but such statements tend to come with the territory in albums that deal so explicitly with depression and the afterlife. After all, what’s the point of an afterlife if we can’t analyze this one?
“If I Don’t See You Before You Leave”
“Neighborhood Drug Dealer”
“Falling Out Of Love With Me”
“It’s Just a Pop Song”