It’s taken time for me to wrap my head around SUN OVER HILLS the latest EP by Ricky Eat Acid, the by-turns sound collage, ghetto house project of Maryland native Sam Ray. Ray is known as a hand-in-multiple-cookie-jars-type artist. Before last year’s Ricky Eat Acid LP, THREE LOVE SONGS, he made a splash with a wistful, cassette-recorded pop record under the moniker Julia Brown; before that he recorded fuzzier, more irreverent tunes under Teen Suicide.
My thoughts on his current EP have been simmering underneath the surface as a delayed reaction to several cuts of the second half of THREE LOVE SONGS. On that LP, the second track “driving alone past roadwork at night” initiates the listener into a landscape of organic jumbled synth tones, found-sound textures and distant choral harmonies; an arrhythmic cloud of rough and tumble, intuitive beauty. In the second half of THREE LOVE SONGS, all of the sudden these high BPM, meticulously programmed beats and chopped, pitch-shifted vocal samples burst out of the ambience. The ambient cloud of the first half tightens into a grid, and the musical vocabulary shifts from that of a warm quotidian existence in suburban Maryland to the urban dance floor. This is basically the torch that SUN OVER HILLS picks up and begins to run like a bionic man doing the steeplechase through a Chicago bodega. By that, I mean to get across that the intersection musical palettes isn’t a predictable extension of what came before, so it takes a time and thought to process. Part of the pleasure of the record is to confront one’s bewilderment and try to place it in the context of Ray’s output.
At first my reaction was skeptical, which is a natural human response when there’s the whiff of cultural appropriation in the air, but eventually I’ve come to appreciate SUN OVER HILLS as a bold experiment in crossover. In his reflection on the EP for FADER, Sam Ray talks about how he wanted to explore his fascination with footwork, juke, and UK garage. If Byrne was afraid to dive head first into afrobeat then we’d never have the anthemic transcendence of “Once in a Lifetime.” Similar to how the Talking Heads carefully incorporated the principles of afrobeat without all out imitating it, SUN OVER HILLS blends a new rhythmic palette with the familiar textures. The hallmark layers of a cassette warmed and warbled synth tones of his early ambient output are still present, now latticed between machine gun bursts of punchy high hat. “Let’s go outside” opens mellow with a textural use of percussion and a sharp, tangy vocal sample poking through the ambient backdrop like a tendrils of lime through a juice grater. The ramshackle warmth of “This goes out to…” feels like a trap-updated Manitoba cut; it’s important to recognize that he’s not pulling from any one genre but a gamut sources and time periods of electronic music. This is the work of a flexible and curious producer. Name your price for SUN OVER HILLS here.