Azure Ray | Drawing Down the Moon
Most Likely To: appeal to sensitive 15-year-old girls of any age or gender.
Is it mean of me to say that the folk-pop duo Azure Ray is less than the sum of its parts? I hope not, because the combo’s members seem to be just awfully nice young ladies and I sure wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings. However, listening to Drawing Down the Moon, their first album together in seven years, does nothing to make me hope the reunion is permanent.
This is actually something of a back-handed compliment, as it means that I’ve found Maria Taylor’s and Orenda Fink’s works apart from each other to be quite intriguing and enjoyable. On their own, they’ve branched out into electronica, dream-pop, and straight-up pop – Taylor’s “Song Beneath the Song” is such a perfect pop track that it’s truly difficult to live in a world that didn’t make it a hit. When they’re not sharing each other’s company they are two artists who are – well, challenging would probably be overstating it. Adventurous, maybe? Sure, that works well enough.
But when they get together as Azure Ray, they seem all too willing to ditch their restless, exploratory sides and it’s all tasteful and folksy cooing that’s lovely but not particularly revelatory. It’s as if when Fink and Taylor work together, neither wants to risk showing the other one up and they approach the whole affair with polite courtesy. There’s a plethora of beautiful, ethereal harmonizing and delicate folk melodies and, aside from occasional low-key electronic textures of the sort that Suzanne Vega first introduced into folk music 18 years ago now, not one trace of the willingness to shake up the folk-pop formula that both women exhibit on their own.
Don’t get me wrong – Drawing Down the Moon is gorgeous, exemplary folk-pop. It’s intelligent and melodic, and when Taylor and Fink intertwine their voices the result is an instrument of pure beauty. They’re good at this stuff, and songs like “Silver Sorrow” and “Love and Permanence” could definitely serve as the soundtracks for the breaking hearts of every sensitive middle school lass staring longingly at dreamy portraits of Edward Cullen, while on the closing “Shouldn’t Have Loved” they even allow themselves to rollick a little.
There’s definitely something to be said for maintaining a band identity – Azure Ray is where the two women can get together to harmonize. They can go all Cocteau Twins or Rilo Kiley on their own stuff if they want to, I suppose. And Drawing Down the Moon is definitely a lovely and accomplished bit of work. Still, it’s hard to not be somewhat disappointed seeing what the pair got up to during Azure Ray’s hiatus and how little of that they brought to the reunion. Instead of a partnership where Fink and Taylor goad each other to new heights, the reunited Azure Ray now seems like one where they hold each other back.
Watch the video for “Don’t Leave My Mind” from Azure Ray: