Azure Ray: Drawing Down the Moon

Like meeting up with an old friend--who hasn't changed a bit

Azure Ray

Drawing Down the Moon

Label: Saddle Creek
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: 2010-10-25

They're back. After a hiatus of seven years, which saw the release of solo albums from both Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink, the duo have reformed once more as Azure Ray. The release of their fourth full-length, Drawing Down the Moon, will surprise no one: it is a lovely record full of hushed, breathy vocals, ethereal harmonies, and accompaniments that are, on occasion, surprisingly muscular.

Opener "Wake Up Sleepyhead" burbles to life with a harp arpeggio, but is otherwise forgettable and short. Happily, the next three songs show that the band has lost nothing for having taken time off. (A cynic would say that they also show that nothing has been gained, either; more on that later.) "Don’t Leave My Mind", propelled by a simple but meaty bassline and a tasteful drum machine, sounds like a plea to a lover, or possibly a child, who has left the singer for opportunities further afield. It can also be read as a shout out to the band’s fans as well. "In the Fog" is easily the best song on the album, and not coincidentally its most muscular in production, with Fink and Taylor's voices bouyed up by a restless flow of quietly cacphonous guitar rattling and bursts of static.

Following immediately after, "Larraine" returns to the familiar acoustic-guitar-and-twinned-voices template, but the earnest vocals and tuneful singing rescue this from the dreaded strumming-in-the-dorm-hallway doom. Other touches, like a murmuring cello during the chorus, help too.

Sadly, 12 and a half minutes in, and the best songs are in your rearview. "On and on Again" is one of those songs that, well, goes on and on again, with the melody so wavering and tentative as to be nearly nonexistent, and the accompanying strings not so much supporting the tune as replacing it altogether. The next several songs are equally forgettable, and the middle stretch of the record sags alarmingly.

Things pick up again with "Love and Permanence", built around a pulsing guitar effect and some rudimentary machine drumming again. (I'm no fan of drum machines, I'm really not, but on this record they often serve to inject a bit of backbone into several songs that might otherwise lack it.) The tempo is still slow, the subject matter is still angst-riven, but the aural accompaniment is compelling enough to give the listener something to hold on to -- and, it seems, the singer as well. There's even an electric guitar solo! The mellowest you'll ever hear, admittedly, but there it is.

From here, the improvements continue. "Should't Have Loved" sports a quicker tempo and petulant lyrics like "She asks ask no questions / So you don’t lie", and builds to a nice crescendo. "Dancing Ghosts" slows the tempo again, while closer "Walking in Circles" is vintage Azure Ray: an acoustic guitar, a pair of lovely voices, and a tale of woe. Is the title meant to be ironic? A critic (ahem) might accuse the band of picking up exactly where they left off, which could be seen as a disappointment. On the other hand, longtime fans -- and for that matter, newcomers -- might be perfectly happy to discover that the band has stayed true to its origins. Listening to this record is something like meeting up with an old friend, one who hasn't developed any bad habits or annoying quirks in the intervening years. Hey, how often does that happen?






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.