Azure Ray resides on the new Warm label, also home to Eric Bachmann's Crooked Fingers output. Bachmann produced their self-titled debut, and his prints are all over it. Like Crooked Fingers, Azure Ray relies heavily on emotional theatrics-- a sort of southern gothic ambience-- and submersion under miles of murky mood. The project pairs Orenda Fink, a veteran of Japancakes, Little Red Rocket, and Bright Eyes, with a fellow Bright Eyes and Little Red Rocket member Maria Taylor. Faux-cult figurehead Brian Causey (of the Causey Way and Man or Astro-Man) is also credited with production and some guest musician spots.
Of course, it's hardly original. Azure Ray is extremely pretty, soft, easy-on-the-tympanum pop music built around acoustic guitar strumming. If you were silly enough to try to delineate an 'indie music aesthetic,' this would fall many city blocks outside of it. No fuzz, no feedback, no indigestible chords, and all with polished production and solid arrangements. Lap steel guitar, cello, violin, church bells, piano, brass, and tape loops all make appearances on these eleven tracks.
The meat of these songs-- if something as pretty as Fink and Taylor's singing can support such a metaphor-- is, of course, the duo's vocals. Their gentle trills manage a good balance between ethereal and corporeal, like an apparition you could touch. It's a great mix between a haunting, somnambulant femininity and understated strength. Sort of Linda Ronstadt, in a way. What's that they say about how women are stronger then men because they can withstand the pain of childbirth?
The first three songs are the album's strongest. "Sleep" features a gorgeous vocal line, some backwards guitar, and nice piano accompaniment; the whispered, minor-chord melody and background noises of "Don't Make a Sound" drown you in atmosphere. "Displaced," though, comes away the obvious winner, with a suspiciously familiar melody. So familiar, in fact, that I wouldn't be surprised if they'd stolen it. Not that I'd care, personally, being relatively certain that whoever they'd stolen it from couldn't do it one-tenth as nice. Again, what can you say except that the singing is haunting and the melody exquisite? It's the platonic ideal of a lullaby.
The eight songs that follow definitely have their moments, even if the contrast is noticeable. "Another Week" layers ghostly, effect-laden singing over slowed-down Western saloon piano music. It's audio sepia-- not terribly provocative but pleasurable nonetheless. "Rise," meanwhile, could be an epiphany scene anthem for a John Hughes movie, if he were still making teen flicks.
Indie label-ghetto obscurity will keep this from attaining massive popularity. But an indie-ghetto habitué such as your self shouldn't have any trouble digging up a copy of this. If maudlin but beautiful, expertly crafted pop songs keep a room in your heart's hotel (under an assumed name, naturally), get with it. You friggin' wuss, you.
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3