Review: Azure Ray – Drawing Down The Moon (2010)
I remember when I first heard Azure Ray. I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing but I do remember that I was a senior in high school (Which leads me to believe that “where I was” was my friend’s house and “what I was doing” was procrastinating on science homework) and the moment I heard the vocal duo of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink, I was enraptured. It’s hard not to be, after all. Both women have lovely voices that make them sound almost other worldly, particularly when backed by a gentle stream of hushed, dark instruments as evidenced on the duo’s 2003 release, Hold On Love. I spent a lot of nights in college barricaded in my room with that record on my turn table. It was the height of the Saddle Creek (Azure Ray’s label) craze but while my indie peers were occupying themselves with everyone’s darling, Conor Oberst, I was deep in the throes of my own girl-on-girl love affair with Taylor and Fink.
In the years since Hold On Love and now, I’ve fallen fairly out of love with Azure Ray, despite the fact that both Taylor and Fink have been prevalent in record stores with solo releases and guest spots on other’s albums. I suppose that, simply put, I’d relegated my time spent with Azure Ray to the vault of Amber Valentine’s College-Self, next to my burning love for Chan Marshall of Cat Power and my habit of listening to side B of Simon & Garfunkle’s Bookends for hours at a time. (It’s probably best if you don’t ask.) Thus, when it was announced that the duo would be putting a stop to their seven year hiatus and be returning to the indie pop fold with Drawing Down The Moon, I was more or less nonplussed. Despite the fact that I’ve been known to toss on Hold On Love every now and then, my Azure Ray fangirlin’ days were behind me, so it took me more than a few months to finally spin the girl’s newest album.
In life, I’ve learned there are a number of things you can rely on. For instance, The Beatles will always be great. Granola is pretty awesome. I will never wake up before ten a.m. A nice floral dress does wonders for people thinking you’re less of a bum. Likewise, Azure Ray will never change.
This is not necessarily a bad thing but if you’re looking for personal and artistic growth, you might be better off picking up Fink’s solo album. Drawing Down The Moon is Azure Ray, to a tee, and while that means what you get when you listen to it is twelve lovely lullabies, you do not exactly hear anything you haven’t heard on Hold On Love, Burn and Shiver, or the November EP.
That being said, however, if you do decide to draw down the moon with Taylor and Fink, you’ll find yourself just as affected as you were when you first heard the girl’s beautiful voices harmonizing. It’s undeniable that Azure Ray makes beautiful songs, tinged with a melancholy sadness that makes their music the perfect backdrop for an evening spent in solitude, reflecting on the shortcomings of yourself or your life.
Drawing Down The Move is heavy on all of Azure Ray’s signature sounds: Gently strummed guitars that lilt as they’re woven in and out of Taylor and Fink’s harmonizing voices, with the occasional punctuation of strings or electronica synth. Unfortunately, this tried and true formula finds the album’s tracks bleeding together on a few occasions. Sure, that one song near the middle of the album was pretty but I can’t for the life of me remember if it was “On And On Again” or “Silver Sorrow”.
Closing track “Walking In Circles” is the album’s stand out here, with Taylor’s ethereal voice confessing “I thought I was strong until my strength wore out.” It was this song that reminded me why I loved Azure Ray so much in the first place. It’s moments like this, when Taylor shows how vulnerable and sad she is under the glossy surface of beautiful vocals and tendrils of jet black hair, that appeal the most to my better nature. Sure, beauty is good and all, but Azure Ray’s best moments come when the pair of ladies showcase their emotional depth.
When the album has come to a close, however, it’s hard to keep it’s twelve tracks separate from one another in your mind. At the end of the day, Drawing Down The Moon is an Azure Ray album. It doesn’t reach or aspire to be more, nor does it vary up the band’s signature sound and after it’s forty five minutes are up, that end ups working against it.