Azure Ray As Above So Below
Both Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have distinguished solo careers, but their most bewitching music occurs when they convene as Azure Ray. The dreamy band became a cornerstone of Saddle Creek’s early-’00s heyday thanks to sad-eyed folk full of hushed harmonies and sparse orchestration, before splitting in 2004. Like much of SC’s roster, though, Azure Ray was never content to make the same album twice—a fact underscored by the percolating electronic production (mainly tinny ’80s burbles or slow-jam grooves) on the band’s first record since reuniting, 2010’s Drawing Down The Moon.
The six-song As Above So Below EP is even more immersed in electronic textures; in fact, the only obvious links to the band’s past are Fink and Taylor’s conspiratorial vocals and the music’s measured pace. But As Above So Below is far richer and weirder than anything that’s come before. Menacing piano and echoing, dripping-water beats dominate “We Could Wake,” while trilling cash-register effects and askew keyboard sine waves pulse on the trip-hop-influenced “To This Life.” Standout “Red Balloon”—which is easily the poppiest song on the EP—is also the haziest tune: Swatches of fragile, wordless crooning and skittering, glitchy rhythms drift in the background.
Fink and Taylor’s voices are perfectly suited for this digital direction. Their throaty stage whispers match the disorienting backmasking and disintegrating-tape wobbles of “Unannounced,” while the intimate, speak-sung verses and keening harmonies of “Scattered Like Leaves” complement the chattering beats and throbbing industrial reverberations. Most of all, their performances also enhance the impact of As Above So Below’s central themes (birth, rebirth, heartbreak, and longing), especially on “Scattered Like Leaves”: The gorgeous song mourns lost romance while acknowledging that life (and love) goes on. It’s a lovely balance of melancholy and optimism that is classic Azure Ray, yet shows emotional and musical progression. The same can be said for all of As Above So Below.