Reviews

Hold On Love

Author: William Morris
11/02/2003 | Pitchfork | pitchfork.com/ | Album Review
Hold on Love, Azure Ray's third proper full-length, sees them hightailing out of their former albums' southern folk aesthetic and kicking up a Tobacco Road dustcloud on the way. Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor's sterile, skeletal song structures are a little better fed and fleshed out this time around, chartering thin rays of hope like sacks of turnips enterprisingly stolen with desperation's iron grip. The carpenters of change are twofold: newly arresting manipulations of electronic elements interlock with the duo's traditional organic fare, as well as bolder and sharper production approaches by longtime producer Eric "Crooked Fingers" Bachmann.
The first three tracks slide in smoothly, showcasing drum programming, dexterous electronic measures, and textured arrangements-- all, of course, still very much shadowed by Fink and Taylor's sleepy harmonies. Their vocals remain the centerpiece of the mixture, tenderly wrapping around each other like weathered fingers on praying hands, and they retain the maudlin and enchanting tone of the duo's previous work even amongst more ambitious and adventurous routes. Elements that were once relied upon solely-- gentle piano, lazy acoustic guitar, sparse percussion-- are now accompanied, and sometimes overshadowed, by Azure Ray's new evocative sonic conviction. "New Resolution" even rocks a little, in a tiny electronic symphony sort of way, and the mid-album track "If You Fall" is downright animated, curiously parallel in tone to the work of labelmates Rilo Kiley.
The duo's strength, though, remains the plaintive, tearful moments they so longingly craft. "We Are Mice", "The Drinks We Drank Last Night", and "Hold on Love" are highlights-- serene, direct vehicles for the duo's vocal prowess, albeit with a little less murkiness and a sharp sense of innovation. "Look to Me" plays on delicate falling-rain acoustic guitar with uneasy resignation. "These Bright Lights Will Bend to Make Blue" also creeps alluringly, perfectly cradling tones of cautious hope within. The lyrics are a bit thin, but its rarely an issue given the beauty of the voices that carry them. I could, of course, do without more than one song delineating "pain inside," but if it came down to sacrificing the message or the messengers, the choice would be clear-cut.
This is a band best served by straight lines, as is perfectly exemplified on roughly half this album, when they allow quiet hints of hope to belie a simple deployment of sentiment. Unfortunately, Hold on Love's more serene moments only weaken the lure of their more intricate and involved songs, ultimately underscoring the group's true strengths. As such, Hold on Love goes down in the books as their shiniest, though half-reflective, work to date.
Hold On Love

Hold On Love

LP / CD / MP3




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