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34 hard-to-find DIY rock songs that may change your life, too

Sam Ray from American Pleasure Club shares a rare compilation.

February 23, 2018

A Whole Fucking Lifetime Of This, American Pleasure Club's first full-length album since changing their name from Teen Suicide, sounds as though it's perpetually on the brink of unraveling. Disparate genres crash into each other, tempos pick up and ebb away, and bandleader Sam Ray's voice strains to be heard through the mess. Ray sings through heavy effects over a mournful piano loop on "eating cherries"; classic rock guitar solos pinwheel through "new years eve"; and drum & bass breakbeats drive the frenzy of "just a mistake."

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Like a lot of Ray's music — he records solo electronic music under the name Ricky Eat Acid and put out a couple of stunning records with the indie pop band Julia BrownFucking Lifetime plays up the tension between its sugar-sweet pop melodies and its ramshackle assemblage. Rather than trying to make everything sound pristine, American Pleasure Club focuses on the ragged motion between its discrete parts, exploring the heightened emotional potentials that arise when a piece of music doesn't fit together perfectly.

A prolific musician, Ray's also been a voracious listener for the majority of his life. He gleaned a lot of his most cherished techniques from obscure artists local to his native Maryland, as well as tracks gathered from Bandcamp, college radio, and label compilations. Many of the songs he's collected over the years never made the leap to streaming platforms. They were released by labels that folded, or by artists who quietly retired, and can now only be found on the internet's back channels if they can be found at all.

So Ray compiled a playlist of otherwise forgotten songs that influenced his music, both as an archival project and as a way of mapping the genome of his new album. "Even if I know nothing about the artist and it's just a single song that got passed to me, all of it has been formative in learning what I want to write, the kinds of things that strike me," Ray says over the phone during a brief break from touring. Below, he discusses each song on the playlist and the way it has affected his songwriting practice.

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We Shave, "Creme Dream Blues II"

The Night People label only released music on cassette, but once a year they put out a big Mediafire compilation. That song is from one of them. I don't know anything about We Shave. I've never heard another song by them, but this song is so fun. It embodies what I want to be doing with our band at our best and most playful. I love a song with a refrain at the end of every stanza instead of a chorus. It's a very old school rock & roll thing. That song reminds me of being 5 years old and hearing Chuck Berry for the first time — it has that same deceptive simplicity and playfulness.

Witch Gardens, "Aunt Shae/Mean Colleen"

Witch Gardens were the best band ever. I think they were from Seattle. They had the funniest Twitter before anyone cared about Twitter. "Aunt Shae/Mean Colleen" is their longest and most complete song. They specialized in that off-the-cuff, fun indie pop kind of thing — a guitar and a vocal playing together off each other with the classic K Records drums. They were a band that didn't try to do anything crazier than what they needed to do, and because of that, they were perfect. I have no idea what happened to them. I know they stopped. It's a shame. I wish more artists had taken something from them. I miss how fun they were. We try to have the same amount of fun they did.

Abraham Rubin, "Majesty (Cattle Prints)"

That's my friend Alex! We were friends in high school. I don't know if he does music anymore. He was in a band in high school called Automatic Stallions and they were so goofy. It was him on synths and a live drummer and sometimes a guy would come dance in masks. It was that kind of high school band, but his songs were really good, even then. After we all graduated, he made this EP called The Dad EP. Half of it was almost hard to listen to, but I loved it: atonal acoustic guitar, slide guitar, a hundred layers recorded without headphones in GarageBand. Just this awful noise with beautiful, sing-song pop melody over it, and the most striking lyrics. But the other half was lo-fi indie pop songs. This song, "Majesty," is the pinnacle of it. It gets stuck in my head so much to this day. He is such a smart songwriter. I hope he still makes music.

Run DMT, "Spruce Bringsteen"

That dude is a weirdo. Run DMT was his Baltimore-based psych project, and that song "Spruce Bringsteen" is the most normal of all his music at the time. It's what Baltimore sounded like for like 10 years. Any show you went to was either a grindcore band or a dude with six samplers and a guitar. But it was so catchy. He had a lot of really good music that you can find floating around still, mostly through local labels and compilations. It was all so tape warp saturated. That song was probably the easiest to listen to and easiest to find. I've always loved it.

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Grandpawww, "Evaporation"

I know nothing about this artist. My friend Adam Ward, who worked at college radio at the time, scoured Bandcamp for so long before anyone was really using Bandcamp. He would find the strangest, prettiest kitchen sink folk albums and film scores from movies you couldn't find. This was a song he played on his radio show. I think I texted him the second he aired it like, "What was that?" I love how you can hear all of these wrong notes. I don't know if they're intentional, but they're being hit softly, like when you're playing a flurry on an organ and you're not quite good enough to play what you're trying to play, but it's so much more beautiful because of it. That song is the embodiment of that. It sounds like a dream. Not a good dream, not a bad dream, just a dream, a twilight.

Sneaky Pinks, "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah"

That's Nobunny's old band. They were the scuzziest, dirtiest, shittiest, scumbaggiest rock band ever. All their songs are a minute long and they sound like they were done in a trash can. I hope they're spoofing the idea of what they're singing about. Knowing Nobunny, I have to assume it's all a mockery. They have a song where he sings the line, "I want a blow job, I want a hot dog," and then everyone starts screaming in the background. All that stuff is very over the line, but the songs are so good. That is a style we love so much: dirty, scuzzy, but so catchy.

The Treehouse, "Leaves Are Falling All Around"

I know nothing about this, except that I found it through an old label that used to be in Baltimore called Wigflip. That song is so beautiful. I don't know if it's samples — it could be stolen completely from somewhere — but it's so pretty and I've been listening to it for so long. They had all their music up for free, with no press. That's where the Run DMT stuff came from, too.

Mutual Benefit, "Animal Death Mask"

Jordan has so much old music that's so gorgeous. Everybody should know it. His career didn't start with that incredible masterpiece album, Love's Crushing Diamond. It started years before. I've loved Mutual Benefit so long. It was hard to pick a song because they're all so good, but on "Animal Death Mask," you can hear where the album came from in the scope of it, the serene, slow-moving, heartbreaking nature of that song. But it's weirder. Diamond had strings and piano and drums. It was a collaboration between so many people. This song is the sound of one person using the craziest stuff they have, electronics, noise, broken toys, just the sound of the inside of one person's head in the best way.

Misha, "Vanilla Ice Cold"

That band's pronounced "Misha." I think it means "bear," but I might be wrong. I know all of them well, or I did for a while. They all relentlessly made fun of me and probably still do and I love them. They are the best crazy screamo band. When Teen Suicide played our "final show" the first time we broke up, they performed with us and scared the fuck out of everybody that came to see us. The singer, if you can call him a singer, is a short little guy, and he was wearing a giant leather Russian army vest and a balaclava and long johns and a black Russian army hat, and he was bleeding profusely from the mouth and eye mid-set from getting slammed around. It was awesome. I love that band. They should make a movie about them. Their music is genuinely terrifying. I don't hear anything like it with new bands. There's very little that gets that chaotic.

CUFFS, "You Can Come True"

CUFFS used to be a band called Pants Yell!, my favorite indie pop band ever. Their first album, which isn't streaming anywhere, is my favorite, most seminal indie pop album. CUFFS did this four-track demo, and that song, "You Can Come True," is my favorite. It's when you have a 65-degree day in the winter and you drive around with your windows down and you see the sky turn black like a thunderstorm's rolling in but it never actually hits and it just stays like that until it gets cold at night.

Spencer Radcliffe, "Angel"

Like Jordan, Spencer is someone that no matter what he does, no matter how big he might get, all of his old music is so, so good but also so forward-thinking that it deserves to be heard. I feel like it was unfairly overlooked for a long time, so I hope that people eventually realize he was ahead of every curve. He's so good, and "Angel" is my favorite.

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Possum, "S. Grand"

That's a band that someone passed me forever ago, a four-track EP on Bandcamp. It's stunning. That song in particular, I don't know why, but it really stayed with me.

Trixie's Big Red Motorbike, "Hold Me"

Trixie's Big Red Motorbike were from England in the '80s or '90s. They were the indie pop band to me. That's where a lot of the sound came from, and it never really got its full due. You can't easily find their stuff. I can't remember who gave it to me. I've loved them ever since. It's very hard to emulate what they do because they do it so effortlessly, but I still want to.

Winks, "Slap Me Choke Me Cum On You"

Winks were a Baltimore band in 2009 or 2010. Their members were all in other acts I knew at the time. I guess I never really liked a lot of their music, but this song is so good. Kind of the same as the Sneaky Pinks stuff — something that works so well on such a scuzzy level and is so catchy. It doesn't have to break any ground. It's just doing something that so few bands can.

Old Table, "The Rounds"

This is the band that all of the old Porches stuff sounds exactly like. You can hear how he found his original sound before he went techno. I don't know a lot about them. That song "The Rounds" blew my mind the very first time I heard it. Something about it is so very beautiful — the voice, the recording, the strings. It's slightly off-key and off-time, but always coming together behind it, like they're playing just outside their means. Everything together is so good and so much what I wish I could be doing.

Lazer Zeppelin, "This Heart"

That's a Night People band. I don't know a lot about them, but they were so good. They drew on all these old, kitschy '70s songs, Dolly Parton songs, country songs — they took stuff from everywhere. I don't know how much of their music is original and how much is pastiche, but they put it all together in this weird, droning, psychedelic country way. They had so many people singing that couldn't sing all together that it added up to something awesome. That song, "This Heart," has always been the one. It's so hard to find out anything about them. If you look up any of their lyrics, you only get the original songs that they're copying pieces from. It's kind of a disappearing act.

Solid Brock, "Track 07"

This is one of three songs on the compilation by my old friend and one-time bandmate Alan, who was in Cotton Candy Collective. His style and songwriting has, without a doubt, influenced me more than anything. I'd go to his house and see him work with 30 broken yard sale keyboards and drum machines and four-tracks he would salvage and put back together. He'd record guitar and have me keep hitting reverse, play with the pitch knob the whole time, and we'd end up with this guitar lead that was so fucking weird and beautiful. It's this idea of pure experimentation matched to pitch-perfect pop songwriting —that's the biggest possible influence on me and my work. On our new song "there was a time when i needed it," I give credit to "Track 07" because they share a melody and a structure. That song is a direct homage.

Laurel, "HCC Girls D.A.R.E."

That's another Alan song. Every single person I know that's heard it slowly got obsessed with it. It's so unassuming at first, and then you play it a couple times and you start falling into this world made with one voice, a couple people yelling behind him, and a couple guitars. That was his trick. He could do so little and it would be inimitable. "HCC Girls D.A.R.E." directly inspired me to write our last single, "all the lonely nights in your life." The first line, "I see you smoking on the lawn / You must be skipping class today" is a direct reference.

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Happy Family, "Youtube"

That's the other side of the Run DMT song — they did a split together. Happy Family was a weird, bro-y, Baltimore guy that ripped off Panda Bear really hard. That might be the guy that ran the Wigflip label; I'm not sure. Panda Bear's sound is so locked in, so when you have someone doing such a messy, weird take on it, it becomes this new, beautiful thing. That song stuck with me. It's like a sunny day.

Kiss Kiss Fantastic, "Dancing and Disintegrating"

That's Rachel from R. L. Kelly and Jeremy Mullins. This song is weird because I've never been able to find it ever again. They gave me this EP, and when I went to look for it again, all these years later, I couldn't find it. There's not even a trace of it. I literally listened to that song hundreds of times. It was my top song on my old Last.fm. That's how much it struck me. Something about it is so easy to loop over and over.

The Memories, "Kiss Me"

I think they were a Portland band. Their music sounds like shit and they are awesome. They fit with that Sneaky Pink, Nobunny thing. I don't know anything about them as people. This song is about a girl you like dating someone new but you're like, "Fuck that dude, dance with me instead." It's not a nice sentiment, but it's a nice-feeling song even though it's done like shit and played like shit. It just hits you in this weird way. You smile listening to it. That's at the heart of a lot of music I love and a lot of music I want to make. It can be done so bad and still be so good, ideally.

David Plell, "Glitter Teeth"

That's another one from Adam Ward. It's a friend of his, from what I understand, somebody he knew in college who made a lot of stunning music that no one really has heard. It's all this angular guitar playing and Avey Tare vocals, but very pop, the way his melodies come together. There's something a little bit weird about it. Even though it's just guitar and vocals for the most part, the way he chops the vocals up at the end, that speaks to how much more he was thinking about it. He didn't just put a tape player down and hit record. It really feels like a full, thought-out composition.

LA Beard Club, "Wasted Potential"

That was an album my friend Jasmine showed me. I still don't know a lot about it. There are 20 songs that sound like that one. They're all really pretty and weird. The voice is really off in a way that I like. We recommended it on Bandcamp and I guess so many people downloaded it that he reached out like, "Who are you? Why are people listening to my music?" We explained how Bandcamp worked and it got him to start writing again.

Anne Laplantine, "Sous Affect"

A lot of electronic musicians I know cite her as an influence. She had all these albums up for free through her website. They're all really different, each record, and they're all really stunning. They seem simple at first and the more you pick them apart, the more you get the sense that a lot of thought and work went into these intricate, small pieces. It feels like a spiderweb, the whole album. Each song is a thread. I've sampled them a lot and I hope she doesn't mind.

Wisdom Tooth, "Do You Feel the Same?"

That was the drummer for the band Quilt. They put all their music on Tumblr and I was so blown away by it. It's this kind of haunted house sounding music. It sounded like a haunted carousel. This song is the peak of that, the most haunted carousel.

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(Sandy) Alex G, "Bike"

Alex is certainly at a higher profile now, but when I first heard his music, no one outside of my friends in Philly knew who he was. They were obsessed. They said, "You have to hear this kid. He's phenomenal. He's the best songwriter." He didn't release his music. Someone had a thumb drive of it, and we'd drive over to their house and they'd give us a thumb drive of a whole bunch of Alex G albums. And then someone else six months later would have another one, and so on. Eventually he started putting albums on Bandcamp. I have hundreds of songs that I don't think he'll ever show to the world again. "Bike" is a song that, for reasons that are unexplainable, attaches to you. It haunts you in your head for years.

Fluffy Lumbers, "Cruisers"

They were one of the members of one of those bands, Real Estate or something. They were in that crew of all the Jersey bands, but they did something that was so catchy when all the others did something dirge-like. Their music has fallen away forever. No one knows it. It's only on YouTube. That song "Cruisers" and their other song "Shore Patrol," they're just perfect to me. They've stuck with me so long. It's so simple but so good, with such strong writing. I love it so much more than the band that found success.

The Histories, "Everything Has Its Own Backyard"

I have never been able to find anything of theirs again. That song sounds like the Wolf Parade guy, Spencer Krug, if he fronted a more down to earth, emotional art rock band. I know nothing about them. I found them because someone I follow on Twitter posted it one day like, "Anyone remember this band from six years ago?" No one said anything, but I downloaded it and then I lost the rest of the record. I've always been curious if the rest of it is as good as this song.

kermitismypal, "hah"

That was my penpal over AIM in 2006. They made this terrifyingly strange electronic music, and that was when I first started making electronic music, too. They taught me so much about it. I'll always be glad. All these years later, I still find something really evocative about this song. I don't know what happened to them.

The Dene Road, "Six Bay Mares"

They're like The Treehouse, another small EP I found through that Wigflip label. That song is clearly a couple samples over and over. Maybe it's their own playing, but it's a loop that builds. Something about it reminds me of the Baz Luhrmann Romeo + Juliet movie. Building a beautiful song out of loops, taking them away and adding them on, that's something that is very dear to me in my own music.

Rocketship, "You Make Me Happy In My Sorrow"

Rocketship was one of the first Slumberland indie pop bands. They had this stunning album called A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness, and they had all of these singles. Then there was this song that was just on YouTube. I guess it never got collected again. Someone showed it to me: "Oh, you like Rocketship? Here are these two songs that got lost to time." It's as good as any of their best songs, but you can't hear it anywhere else.

Attic Abasement, "Australia"

Attic Abasement, I'm wearing their shirt right now by accident. They're one of those artists that found an audience that was not there when they first put their albums out. They're still working, but nothing will ever be like the album that "Australia" is from. It's such a unique, home-recorded thing, like if the Silver Jews were a pop band. The sense of lyricism is there, the wittiness, the darkness, but in such a traditional pop songwriting context. So many people have covered it. Rachel of R.L. Kelly covered that song. I think Mat from Coma Cinema covered that song. The influence is broad among that generation of artists.

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Shop Assistants, "Somewhere In China"

That's a really old '80s indie pop song. I can't find it streaming anywhere. It's the kind of song you can play a hundred million times and it never, ever, ever gets tiring. It's the most comforting, beautiful kind of writing, with that repeating vibraphone loop through the whole thing. That's the side of '80s pop that I love. You have the Smiths and all of that, and it's cool, but the beautiful, soft side of it is more forgotten now.

Cotton Candy Collective, "Birthday Girl"

It's really hard to pick a Cotton Candy Collective song because all of them are so good and they're so different. Some of them are home recorded. This is a studio recorded one, when they had a full band with really strong musicianship. That's why I picked it, even though my favorites are the fuzziest, most home recorded, most washed out ones. I wanted to include something that showed they could have been a canonical indie rock band. Alan's songwriting was just unmatched. He was 16 or 17 when they did this. It's absolutely insane to me. I can't do that now, even though I try and try and try. The way it's influenced our band and my writing is absolutely obvious. I try to make it so we don't just rip them off, but the influence will always be so strong. If I go a week listening to them again, I probably will lose any sense of my own style and revert back to that high school mode of going to his house and seeing him play these songs. He explored so much. He pushed everything, and he had a naturally pitch-perfect voice. In high school, I had friends who only listened to Lil Wayne and Kid Cudi, and even they were obsessed. That's why I think they could have been the best. They could have had a "Float On." My mom loves them.