Review Summary: [It's] carefully constructed to be appealing to the mind and heart. And it succeeds.
Azure Ray released their self-titled debut in the heart of January. They couldn't have chosen a better time. The freshness of a new year surrounds us, as does the inevitability of the winter season. Here in New England, snow-covered landscapes, crisply cold skies, and naked trees adorn this time of year. And despite the thrill of a fresh start, it's probably the most depressing-looking season. However, this is all from a New Englander's eye. Down in Georgia, where Azure Ray were based at the time of their first album, I'm sure winter is a different entity altogether. And they have managed to twist together the Georgian winter with the New England winter, creating a record of both cold and warm extremes.
Despite this meshing, Azure Ray
is a sparse record, that feels like winter regardless of the temperature. Gorgeous opener "Sleep" begins and ends with twinkling piano and a catchy subtle synth line in the background. "Fill these spaces up with days / In my room you can go you can stay," Maria Taylor sings, sounding as sad as the sub-zero musical cocoon surrounding her voice. Orenda Fink's voice subtly harmonizes in the chorus, creating one of the prettiest songs these ladies have ever recorded. And even though they seem so good at creating these cold tunes, a few songs (the twangy "4th of July," or the heated and glacial pace of "Fever") sound as warm as the state in which the girls grew up.
The second track is quite the opposite from the opener. "Displaced" is a tender acoustic ballad, with some of the best lyrics on the album ("She's my friend of all friends / She's still here, everyone's gone / She doesn't have to say a thing / We'll just keep laughing all night long"). It's a relatable acoustic pop song; the feel of which is never recreated, and is actually quickly canceled out by Fink's gloomy, creepy "Don't Make a Sound," which is complete with constant vinyl scratching and siren-like noises. Fink does a good job at setting a tone, and is successful every time.
In fact, it's Orenda Fink's tunes that I like the most in this record. "Another Week" is a beautiful piano ballad, with the most clever and inventive harmonies on the disc, which are layered, effected, and buried under the main line. "Safe and Sound" is the most tender moment, and is also one of the few hopeful tunes here. "Could you be the one to find me safe and sound?" Fink asks, over a bed of gentle acoustic strumming. Another standout is the 5 and a half minute "Rise," which is a well-paced song about the effects of drugs or other substances in a relationship. The power of the words is enough to carry the song, which is why it's given the most subtle cloud of synths as the main musical weapon.
There surely are missteps here. "Fever" is a bit too slowpaced to be too accessible, and as a result will have many listeners skip to the next one before it's over. "For No One," has some great, poppy quick guitar work, which is exactly why it doesn't fit into the languidness and litheness of the other songs. At least "How Will You Survive" has a nice vocal line from Fink and a cool recurring synth twinkle, and contains a satisfying climactic end.
This isn't an album for everyone. It's slow, cold, and somber, (even the 30 second untitled instrumental interlude resembles distraught yelps). Also, each track gracefully rolls into the next, without much eventfulness. Despite that though, each track is its own, unique from the one before or after it. This is what makes Azure Ray
such a satisfying listen. It's easy to listen to, and carefully constructed to try and be appealing to the mind and heart. And it succeeds.
Track Picks: Sleep, Another Week, Rise