Over the course of five albums, Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor, a.k.a. Azure Ray, have proven themselves adept at a style of folk-pop that, while often lovely, hasn’t been particularly distinctive. The duo’s As Above So Below looks to rectify that with a radically overhauled aesthetic that bathes their trademark vocal harmonies and minimalist melodies in chilly, electronic atmospherics.
After a seven-year hiatus, dream-pop duo Azure Ray returned in 2010 with a full-length that solidly—and safely—echoed the serenity of Maria Taylor’s and Orenda Fink’s past work together. This time, on EP As Above So Below, the two go electronic. Save for “The Heart Has Its Reasons,” with its aching piano, the collection features spacey landscapes and gentle-though-firm beats layered with those signature nostalgic harmonies.
After a seven year hiatus, Athens, Georgia dreamweavers Azure Ray returned to the blissful folk-pop of their earliest material with comeback album Drawing Down the Moon. The duo of Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor built much of their sound on gorgeously blended harmonies, but the instrumentation of acoustic instruments flirting with subtle electronic undertones added texture and mystery to their indie folk landscapes. With As Above So Below, Azure Ray depart somewhat from their established sound, honing in on dark, softly swirling atmosphere and relying almost completely on electronic instruments.
Context is a tricky thing. A single song can take on deeper meanings and associations with a bit of contextualization. Which is why I disagree with NPR’s Stephen Thompson, who wrote that the dream-pop duo Azure Ray “mine considerably gentler territory” on their new album As Above So Below, whereas previously they “weaponized [their] melancholy to devastating effect.” His assessment, though, is based solely on lead single “Red Balloon”, which he rightly describes as full of “unguarded optimism.” Rather than pessimistic or optimistic, based in reality or dream (or even nightmare), Azure Ray follows the wavy lines that separate the dichotomies.
By now, the ladies of Azure Ray have proven themselves. With the combined efforts of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink, the duo has birthed a number of fantastic dream pop songs that are instantly catching, if not subtly heartbreaking. Their gorgeous vocals and trembling instrumentals capture your attention with their honesty and charm. Usually.
When you think of Omaha, Nebraska’s Saddle Creek record label, the first thing you might gravitate toward is Bright Eyes. That would be natural, given the heightened status that Conor Obrest had amongst certain emo-tilting youth in his prime. If you had to, thus, define the Saddle Creek sound based on that, you might think folk or you might think country.