Maryland lo-fi pop act Julia Brown almost never made this record. The band tried making an album two years ago, before effectively closing for business and leaving the record in an awkward limbo, only released to the world as an online leak. Luckily, songwriter Sam Ray (also known for his work with Ricky Eat Acid and Teen Suicide) thought it a shame to simply discard all that material and decided to take things into his own hands, teaming up with singer and violist Caroline White to call on a range of friends (and former members) to finally get the thing finished. The result is An Abundance of Strawberries, an album which takes the familiar lo-fi/bedroom pop template and sends it fizzing cloudwards, forgoing the traditional band set-up by using drum machines and looped samples in place of conventional percussion and tying everything together with a ribbon of strings and horns.
The opening title track begins soft, acoustic guitars and Ray’s vocals sprinkled like powder, before it hurtles into a transformation, sounding like a DIY version of Animal Collective’s dense and swirling psych, a joyously ramshackle clatter of a pop song. ‘Snow Day’ is glitchy and twitchy, Ray’s smooth vocals juxtaposed against the looped percussion and lyrics about an errant snow day in 2015, while ‘All Alone in Bed’ is an indie pop track that comes across something like Bellows meets Eskimeaux, telling the story of bad relationships and drugs and psychological struggle.
“are you coming home?
have you been losing weight again?
does your mother know that you’re skin and bones?
does your mother know those things you do
when you’re all alone in bed?”
’25 Days (may 15)’ has almost spiritual zen-like start before layering samples and Ray’s straining, impassioned vocals, creating something that extends beyond the pensive sorrow that exists on the rest of the album, a desperate, grasping regret encapsulated when he sings “this world could have been so many things and so could I”. ‘Without You’ more glitched beats behind high and sad and dreamy vocals (“what’s the point of the leaves changing colors
if I can’t watch them change with you?”), while ‘Abby’s Song’ is a change of tack which sees Abby Trunfio take over vocal duties on an acoustic bedroom pop track.
The wildly complex ‘You Can Always Hear Birds’ begins with atmospherics and a rapid barrage of digital drums and undergoes several careening changes of tone and tempo, before the palette-cleansingly short and sweet ‘The Way You Want’ and ‘Loved’, a subdued bedroom pop track with deceptively dark lyrics about death and mutilated birds (“a flightless bird though not by choice / on the side of the road with both wings cut off / another bird found by the lake / its severed head lying two feet away”). ‘The Body Descends’ is permeated with an audio clip of someone saying the strange phrase that is the album title, and becomes something pretty sincere, complete with piano and stirring atmospherics, the stomping percussion building and building into something like a crescendo, like a late night epiphany.
“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
& across the room
& out in the hall
& outside my house
& out in the yard”
‘Possession’ deals with overcoming narcotic ghouls, while penultimate track ‘Closing on a Roof’ is slow and heartfelt with elegant viola and cello, before the music subsides and an audio clip enters of a girl reading a passage from Psalms, like a cryptic answer phone message left by a stranger in a dream. And then the album closes with ‘Bloom’, which feels happy and hopeful in a non-flashy way, just Ray and his guitar and lyrics about finding heaven when alone in the church parking lot, “it’s not art it’s something much softer than that”, he sings, “it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever felt and probably ever seen.”
An Abundance of Strawberries is a convoluted mass full of idiosyncrasies and distinctive flourishes. But unlike many experimental albums, it also has a solid core, a sense of heart or humanity which elevates it beyond the realms of sonic speculation. The complexity of the compositions mirrors that of the narrator’s life, of his worries and regrets and confusion, and the communal spirit involved in the album’s creation seems somehow a response to that. It’s as if the album’s biggest artistic endeavour was added at the end, that it may have been conceived and developed by Julia Brown, but the result is something far bigger than any one band, something that took a collective spirit to complete.