Julia Brown – ‘An Abundance Of Strawberries’ Review
Posted: by Sean Gonzalez
You know that feeling of finding a band all by yourself? That’s how I feel about the new Julia Brown album. To my immediate friends, I am the only one that has an opinion about the album. I am the one who has the ultimate decision on what it sounds like an dhow to describe it to anyone around me that I try to force into listening to the group. An Abundance Of Strawberries is an album that was slated to be released about two years ago before the group disintegrated. It was eventually finished by Sam Ray and like any great solo project, he called on plenty of people to help finish it. It has now landed itself on vinyl, cd and cassette releases via Joy Void Recordings and was officially released on January 15th, 2016.
The thirteen songs found on this LP are aimed incredibly at a lo-fi audience. Tracks have plenty going on but can still sound like Ray is holding something in, only to throw more into the song as it carries on. In doing this, Ray is able to expand the confined limits of the genre by embracing an infinite amount of ideas to broaden the music. Take “25 Days (May 15)” for an example. After fading in with odd acoustic guitars sliding between keyboard notes, Ray channels his inner Conor Oberst and is desperately pleading to find either a way back or a way out. His vocal delivery is cutting through swells of warm notes pulsing with life until it’s gone. He takes on so many different forms of pop that it is hard to predict what anyone will hear next. Opener “An Abundance Of Strawberries” finds Ray alone with his acoustic guitar singing with an airy inflection but continues later on with more vocals joining in in a group effort to expand the song to the softest breaking point of any song ever. “You Can Always Hear Birds” is the exact opposite of the opening track, showcasing a frantic drum pattern cutting through the synth chords before everything cuts out and the song is reimagined. It’s quick turns like this that allow this album to sound bigger and more complex than it is. Embedded in all of the music are vocals intelligently hid behind samples of other sounds echoing behind the warm cadences of the music. When combing a track like this, it highlights Sam Ray’s talents at detailing a song to perfection while being able to know how much space he is working with.
And it’s not that Ray decided to write unconventional music. “The Way You Want” is a broken hearted song that comes to terms with not being able to love someone. “Bless this ugly heart so I can love you like I want if you don’t want that that’s fine. I can do this all my life. take the things you want so I can feel some way you want, do I feel some way you don’t , I won’t know,” croons Ray and Francesca Blume together. Their combined vocal presence sounds like two hearts breaking together without a way to close the tears. Ray’s ability to capture a mood and beat it to a pulp is another gift found throughout An Abundance Of Strawberries. “The Body Descends” is a gruesome lullaby featuring both low and high detuned piano notes and solemn lyrics being sung without any hope. Ray and Caroline White’s vocals are not matched up perfectly word per word and this small detail adds to the ominous ambience of the track. It’s as if both vocalists are singing from the bottom of a ditch they have been stuck in for days and not even god can save them, “I am what I’m not, my problems are God’s when the body descends, we both sit and watch & the strongest love I’ve felt in my life rises up from the dark to pull me aside.”
As if to remind us that An Abundance Of Strawberries was envisioned and carried by one man, Sam Ray ends the album with himself and his trusty acoustic guitar on “Bloom.” But don’t let his reminder take away from the rest of the package. An Abundance Of Strawberries is a monstrosity of lo-fi beauty; in that the genre was expanded to every possible breaking point throughout the writing process and brilliantly captured and condensed to 39 minutes of mind pleasing music. The beauty of the record is that through its simplicity, Sam Ray found a way to complicate things just enough to never break the seal, only showcase how far the his talents can go.