Saddle Creek | Azure Ray | Reviews


Hold On Love

Author: Sarah Peters
10/01/2004 | Lost at Sea | | Album Review
Azure Ray is like a time-honored Victorian novel. Indeed, the themes of romance and melancholy are classically recognizable, but the attention to the obscure, from scenery to creeping dementia, ensure that readings are vivid to the imagination.

In the time frame of such classic works, Hold On Love is a leap from print to cinema. Winona Ryder becomes Abigail Williams, though you did not picture her in the role. Rather than being consumed by the small details of life, the story becomes larger than life: polished and easily absorbed.

The story is still here, the lovely ladies with their wavering, glistening voices and the help of Eric Bachmann, the heartache and the confined warmth of winter. Left behind, however, are the intricacies that made the piece come alive before it was overtly shown to you; the symbolism that was erased in favor of common accessibility. As a result, you don't have to work as hard to be immersed in Hold On Love, but there is not as much to enwrap you.

Their experimentation is most lacking when it engulfs the band's identity. For instance, "The Devil's Feet" sounds as familiar as Tori Amos or Bonfire Madigan, with a spare piano laying dramatic foundations, but stepps into the fearful territory of modern electronics without steady footing. It feels loud and forced, instead of easing in and allowing each instrument to find its respective place; and, as such, serves as further evidence of why Little Earthquakes continues to outrank current offerings.

Nevertheless, it is still a beautiful tale in both stages, and the lofty highs are still as poignant as in past incarnations: "New Resolution" is, in itself, a reason to explore their newest notions. The drum programming, while decidedly more modern than their folk exterior, adds intrigue and momentum here, and does not lose heart or grace.

"Sea of Doubts" works brilliantly, swallowed by strings and nervous quiet, and captures the ladies' true-to-form vocal shimmer before caving in to the temptation of computerized drumbeats. As tinkering remains subtle and textured, the cut announces its presence as the album's centerpiece, and is a winning combination of their new adventurism and proven aesthetics.

As predicted, the disc finds its merit when it sticks most closely to the story. "The Drinks We Drank Last Night" and "Hold On Love" recall the measured, expressive tones of their exquisite November EP. Specifically, they sound like adeptly feminine counterparts of labelmate Bright Eyes, broken yet unafraid.

Perhaps this album can best be summarized as out of step; the rift between new and old is too wide, too obvious. If given the chance to gradually creep in, these novel tricks would not feel so disconcerting. If Azure Ray focuses on the middle ground - between adhering to the unchanging text and giving in to the modern audience - their next effort should be impressively, satisfyingly even.
Hold On Love

Hold On Love

LP / CD / MP3