Review Summary: "It's pretty and sweet without ever turning saccharine... It is all so appealing presented to us."
Azure Ray are a has-been. A band in the past. A soft dream pop duo from Nebraska via Georgia. The two create gentle, minimalistic tunes of minute detail and prettiness. Many times they are shunned for their obtrusively drawn out utterances, and the oft dreariness of their sounds. But rest assured: this is not depressive muck flowing out of the speakers, it's the sinewy body surrounding a heart of white noise.
The duo went on indefinite hiatus a couple years ago, for reasons undisclosed. Fans were devastated. Alas, both went on to create solo projects: Maria Taylor's debut 11:11
came out in 2005, but it pretty much followed suit with what she was most used to doing. The real experiment came from the other half of Azure Ray, Orenda Fink. Her debut solo album Invisible Ones
was a spiritual disc of intriguing and enveloping melodies and themes. Both are distinct, yet neither compare to the work they've produced as a duo. And out of all their discs, Burn and Shiver
remains my personal favorite.
Burn and Shiver
opens with one of its most brilliant offerings, "Favorite Cities." A gently pulsating number, complete with the duo's signature of writing a small amount of lyrics to create a very complete song. "We have all the time in the world here / ...That's a lie! That's a lie!" Taylor sings in sweet admission. The track that follows, "The New Year," is traded to Fink, and is almost like her version of the opener, with gentle strumming and bubbling synth notes.
The songs on this album are often dominated by one singer or the other, with the other one providing almost-always satisfying harmonies, as on "Home," where the choral line "And this is why I'm here" has one of the most indelible harmonic moments, when Fink's vocals trail off after Taylor's, to create a lingering sense of belonging, and furhter emphasizing the lyric. This kind of magic is never completely recreated, though it comes close on "Trees Keep Growing" when Taylor's higher-than-average voice layers over Fink's.
Despite all the hushed beds of sound we are presented with, one song stands alone as the dramatic heart. "How You Remember" is an almost frightening tale of someone getting caught by a snake in water. The southern-gothic feel, the steady pulse of the drums and trumpets, and the commanding delivery from Fink with soft harmonizing from Taylor, all combine to make it one of the discs best songs. The dramatic bite is not revisited again on the disc, and it is placed perfect as the fifth track, after four softer opening songs.
The album is not completely faultless. "Trees Keep Growing" is one of the more interesting tunes, sung by Fink (as most of the more experimental tracks seem to be), and granted only a sparse piano line and a low rumbling synth drone, she admits "I never expected you to love me the way that I love you," yet later shoves in the great bit: "It's funny how you can forget there's a world outside yourself / Where the one who loves you keeps on living / Without you there." It's all very appealing, but hardly accessible. "We Exchanged Words" suffers from the same problem, with airy, eerie sounds compiling with Fink's breathy voice. Again, it's all very interesting, but not very accessible. And "Your Weak Hands" serves almost as interlude, with quickly strummed guitar and plaintive, buried vocals.
Burn and Shiver
is an album on a minuscule scale: soft synths, soft horns, soft piano, all very easy to listen to. It's pretty and sweet without ever turning saccharine, and though it's sluggishly paced, it's not difficult to get through the whole thing in one sitting. It is all so appealingly presented to us, with perfect flow between the tracks. Even the missteps are good songs, they just have small faults. The duo have since abandoned making music, and their final full-length Hold On Love
was not nearly as good as this, or their debut self titled album, which is also quite a marvel. These girls made some of the most delicate and beautiful works of the decade, and I can only wish they still existed on the scene.
Track Picks: Favorite Cities, How You Remember, Raining in Athens
*Note: The official track listing lists tracks 8 and 9 as "While I'm Still Young" and "Your Weak Hands," respectively. However, track 8 is actually the song that is "Your Weak Hands," and track 9 is actually the song that is "While I'm Still Young." I disregarded the corrections in my review, and reviewed it as it is listed in the album's official tracklisting.