Azure Ray: As Above So Below
Azure Ray is the dream-pop brainchild of Omaha musicians Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink. Taylor brings the lush vocals and Fink brings the electro-infused instrumentals. It’s a complementary pairing that has all the makings of a well-oiled dream-pop machine ‒ a genre that’s gained a great deal of notoriety in indie circles over the past few years, in large part due to the emergence of bands like Beach House, Tame Impala and The xx. So Azure Ray’s music is appropriately ethereal and consuming, fit with a generous dose of samples and effects that attempt to keep the music from getting lethargic. Maintaining emotional depth when the music’s texture is rooted so much in electronic effects is never easy, and frankly I can’t say Azure Ray completely succeeds.
The album, which spans a mere six average-sized songs, opens with the breathy “Scattered Like Leaves.” It’s lush and compared to other songs on this album, it’s jam-packed with sound. It manages to set a pretty clear direction for the rest of the album. “Red Balloon,” one of the more triumphant songs on the record, throws in quite a few sonic bells and whistles but still leaves moments of very spare, quiet stretches that heighten the mood. It’s a minimalist approach that I wish was utilized more often on the album, because it seems to be the one point on the album that wasn’t painstakingly orchestrated. “To This Life” is percussive and a bit reminiscent of earlier Bjork records, but, by the end, it seems to rely on the more meandering, faux-jazzy sound of a genre I like to derisively label “Starbucks music.” It’s a disappointing direction that most of this slim album’s second half takes. As Above So Below’s penultimate song, “The Heart Has Its Reasons,” again uses samples and effects as a crutch. Such techniques detract from the drama this song deserves.
This style of music ‒ so ethereal and ornate ‒ can become dull quickly, if it’s not beautifully written or somewhat experimental. Azure Ray seems to account for this contingency. Yet in this attempt to avoid sleepiness, the music loses its emotional footing and can’t make up for it with its merely solid songwriting. The music is undeniably pretty, but it also feels a bit empty.
MP3: Azure Ray “Red Balloon”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl